The Brexit campaign for the UK to leave the European Union is driven by emotion, in particular dislike of foreigners and a fantasy notion of modern state sovereignty. While there is evidence that people are ignorant of the facts on migration, there is no evidence that being aware of them would change existing views. Older people tend to be strongly opposed to immigration and Ipos-MORI has found that White opposition is greatest in the least ethnically diverse areas.


In 1989 — the year the Berlin Wall was breached — 63% of British adults agreed to the statement “too many immigrants" and in recent times polling has found that the public has estimated that the percentage of the foreign-born population is in the range of a quarter to a third.

The share of foreign-born people in the UK’s total population rose by over 50% between 1993 and 2014, i.e. from 7 to nearly 13.1%.

The foreign-born population in the UK of 8.4m compares with an estimate of over 5m Britons born in the UK who are living in other countries according to a United Nations estimate.

5.3m of the 8.4m foreign-born resident in the UK are from countries that are not members of the European Union.

New York and London — two of the world's most economically vibrant cities — each have foreign population ratios of 37%. The United States at 13% has a similar ratio to the UK — the US peaked at 15% in 1890, fell to 5% in 1970 according to the Census Bureau and was at 8% in 1990.

Using OECD and Eurostat data, of the advanced economies, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand have ratios of about 28%. Germany was at 13% in early 2015; France 12%; Italy 9%; Spain 13%; Netherlands 12%; Austria 17%; Ireland and Sweden 16%;  Denmark at 10% and Norway at 14%.

Note that Brexiters point to Norway and Switzerland as examples of having "control" of their borders — both have foreign population ratios above the UK level and they both contribute to the EU budget to gain tariff-free access to the EU market.

The UK has added 2.8m jobs or about 10% since the first quarter of 2010 and about 1.5m of the additional jobs were taken by foreign-born individuals bringing their total to 5.2m in a 31.5m employed workforce.

For January to March 2016, while there were 5.24m people born abroad working in the UK, but the number of non-UK nationals working in the UK was much lower at 3.34m — as some had become British citizens.

The estimated employment level of EU nationals (excluding British) living in the UK was 2.1m in January to March 2016.

While not all new jobs are full-time employee ones, the UK employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work) was 74.2% in January to March 2016 — the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

In 2014, 79% of foreign-born men were working in the UK compared with 81% in the US; 68% in Ireland; 60% in Belgium; 64% in France and 77% in Germany.

In more recent data, the OECD raised the estimate for the foreign-born population in Ireland:

17% of Irish-born live overseas; 20% of Irish population foreign-born

Priti Patel, an employment minister of state, is supporting Brexit. She was born in London in 1972 to a Ugandan Indian migrant family and in that year Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, ejected thousands of citizens of Asian origin, who were allowed to settle in the UK by the government of Edward Heath. The paternal great grandfather of Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, was a Turk named Kemal Ali.

Today there would be no welcome in the UK for Indian-Ugandans or Turks.

US foreign population ratio 2016

Ipos-MORI reported last week:

EU immigrants: we massively overestimate how many EU-born people now live in the UK. On average we think EU citizens make up 15% of the total UK population (which would be around 10.5m people), when in reality it’s 5%1 (around 3.5m people). Those who intend to vote to leave overestimate EU immigration more: they think 20% of the UK population are EU immigrants, compared with the average guess of 10% among those who intend to vote “remain”.
Barmaid cleavages and other regulations from the EU:  The EU doesn’t always get credit for some of our laws they’re responsible for – like statutory holiday (37% correctly guessed) and two year guarantees on products (21% correctly guessed). On the other hand, we’re generally pretty good at spotting more ridiculous “Euro-myths”, but still 1 in 7 of us (15%) believe at least one Euro-myth – including bans on barmaids showing too much cleavage and forcibly renaming the snack “Bombay Mix” to “Mumbai Mix” (neither of which are real EU laws).  But EU law is complex — it’s no wonder there’s confusion. A quarter (24%) of us think bananas that are “too bendy” are banned from being imported into the UK. This is a long-standing favourite used as an example of excessive EU bureaucracy - most recently re-surfacing from Boris Johnson. But is it a Euro-myth? Yes and no: the EU does have a regulation to stop malformed bananas being imported into the UK, but it’s a stretch to say the EU’s banned “bendy” bananas.
EU democracy: only 6 in 10 know that members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected by the citizens of each member state.  One in five (18%) think that MEPs are not elected and a quarter (25%) say they don’t know whether they are or not.  
The EU’s administration bill: we massively overestimate how much of the EU’s budget is spent on administration.  The average guess is that 27% of the overall budget is spent on staff, admin and maintenance costs, when in reality it’s 6%8. If this estimate were accurate the EU would be spending €38.5bn on admin each year, instead of €8.5bn.