21st Oct 2016

Two million British people emigrated to EU, figures show

  • Heathrow airport: The figures come amid a shrill debate on EU migrants (Photo: Curt Smith)

British figures indicate that just as many UK citizens live in the EU as vice-versa, despite popular perceptions.

The numbers, covering 2010, were put forward last week in a government response to a parliamentary question by Matthew Oakeshott, a Liberal member of the House of Lords.

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Compared to the 2.3 million EU citizens in the UK, which includes people who came after Poland and nine other states joined the Union in 2004, British consular authorities estimate that 2.2 million Britons live in the other 26 EU countries, excluding Croatia, which joined in 2013.

A previous response to an Oakeshott question in January said another 900 Britons live in Croatia, putting the net immigration-emigration ratio even closer to par, however.

The country breakdown says just over 1 million British people live in Spain.

Other popular destinations are: France (330,000); Ireland (329,000); Germany (107,000); Cyprus (65,000); the Netherlands (48,000); Greece (45,000); Portugal (39,000); and Italy (37,000).

The government reply indicates the real numbers could be higher, due to “a high evidence of non-registration” in France, Portugal and Spain.

Of the total, some 400,000 are British pensioners.

Meanwhile, relatively few have gone to former Communist or former Soviet EU countries, with just 6,000 UK passport holders in Poland, for instance.

The statistics come amid a shrill debate on EU immigration ahead of the European elections in May.

The main British eurosceptic party, Ukip, last year predicted that many economic migrants will come from Bulgaria and Romania when labour restrictions expire on 1 January 2014.

The prediction proved false.

But the ruling Conservative Party took a similar line. It planned a negative advertising campaign to tell people that British weather is bad and there are few jobs on offer.

Prime Minister David Cameron also raised the alarm on “benefit tourism,” singling out Polish people as benefit cheats, despite having no evidence to back up his claim.

For his part, Oakeshott told the Financial Times on Monday (10 February) that the “scaremongering … could poison the atmosphere for 2 million of our fellow countrymen in the rest of Europe."

But Mark Field, a Conservative MP, told the newspaper: “These [figures] are not like for like: Lots of Brits abroad are successful people living in second homes in Spain or France. Most Brits living abroad are not aggressive beggars or sleeping rough on the streets.”

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