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High UK migration totals feed into Brexit debate

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High UK migration totals feed into Brexit debate

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Newly released figures show net migration to Britain reached its second highest level on record last year.

Coming less than one month before the referendum on European Union membership, the numbers were immediately seized on by supporters of Britain leaving the EU – even though the increase wasn’t because more foreigners arrived, but rather that fewer people left the UK to live abroad.

Of the total of 333,000, 184,000 were from the European Union.

Low-skilled, low-paid workforce

In agriculture, hospitality and construction, many UK businesses rely heavily on low-skilled, low-paid workers from poorer EU countries.

At one farm in Yorkshire in northern England, the majority of those planting and picking are from Poland or the Baltic states.

Owner Guy Poskitt said if Britain leaves the EU, closing the door on migrant workers, he would not be able to run his business: “Sadly we can’t find enough local workers to fill these jobs. We have a lot of good local workers, but we can’t find enough of them. We need to bring EU workers, migrant workers, in to fill these job and meet the needs of our customers.”

Estonian Marika Rudik-Mis, the farm office administrator, said: “If I just look at the number of eastern European staff on the farm, that work here, if tomorrow no one came in I don’t think they would be able to make even half the daily produce.”

Hot button

Immigration is a hot button issue in the referendum campaign.

‘Leave’ supporters argue Britain could better able to control who comes in. “We would be able to decide our immigration policy on the needs of the British economy,” Boris Johnson, figurehead of the ‘Out’ camp, told Britain’s Sky News television.

Another of its leading lights, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, said he didn’t believe the figures.

Britain’s Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said leaving the bloc was not the solution: “We need to continue the reforms to reduce net migration from outside of Europe, which still maintains the majority (of new arrivals).”

The remain camp also insists lower immigration would weaken the UK’s economy and destroy jobs and farmer Guy Poskitt says he wouldn’t be able to harvest his carrots.

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