Does number of Europeans here equal Brits abroad?
“A million people come from Europe but a million British people have gone into Europe. You know, there’s a lot of British people staying in Europe as well.”
Gordon Brown in conversation with Gillian Duffy, Rochdale, 28 April 2010
Cathy Newman checks it out
Gordon Brown’s encounter with Gillian Duffy hit the headlines almost entirely because he dismissed her off-camera as a bigot. But his exchange with the 66-year-old was controversial in itself. His claim that the numbers of EU citizens arriving here equals the number of Brits leaving for Europe sounded rather too convenient.
Those figures have actually been used before. In a speech on immigration at the end of last month the PM said: “Around 1 million citizens of other EU countries are now living and working in Britain – but there are also around 1 million Britons living and working in the rest of the EU.”
But knowing that Brown’s got his facts wrong before on immigration, FactCheck mounted a thorough investigation.
A parliamentary written answer last October from the Cabinet Office estimates (see Table 4) that in 2007 1,588,000 foreign EU citizens were resident in the UK, with a margin of error of plus or minus 52,000. This is for people in the UK for more than a year.
So Gordon Brown’s own office has a latest figure of 1.6m EU foreigners living in the UK – well above the figure of one million given by the prime minister to Gillian Duffy. And the most recent available figure from the Office for National Statistics – for June 2008 to June 2009 – puts that figure even higher at 1,792,000, although this higher estimate includes temporary residencies.
Labour also pointed out to us that the 1.6m figure includes people from the Republic of Ireland – as does all the comparative data FactCheck has used in this article.
But what about Brits abroad?
There are 748,010 Brits living in the EU, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s official statistics office. They hold data on British citizens working and living across the 27 EU states, excluding Estonia, France, Greece and Cyprus, as countries provided the data on a voluntary basis.
By any analysis, France does have quite a high proportion of Brits living there so not including them would skew the data. The last available Eurostat data from 2005 says there are 133,678 ex-pats across the channel. A 2006 survey by the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) found 136,353 British nationals plus 20,773 Britons who now have French nationality.
But some reports cite the figure to be as high as 250,000 . So, allowing for a margin of error, Brown could be in the ballpark with his estimate of a million UK citizens living and working across the European Union.
When FactCheck asked the Labour party to provide a source for Gordon Brown’s claims, they forwarded us a link to a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR). The report – published in December 2006 - is entitled Brits Abroad: Mapping the scale and nature of British emigration.
The report shows that 1,010,644 Britons were living in other EU countries, as measured by “passport estimates based on IPPR calculations”. However, Labour points to the “Brits abroad for a year or longer” column in the research, which says there were 1.4m Brits in the EU, or 1.66m if you include Ireland. It’s worth noting that some of the data used to generate these totals was carried out as far back as 1996.
It is also worth noting that the IPPR “uprated” official data to take into account other factors such as non-registration. So while the Spanish census found in 2006 that there were 274,042 Brits living in Spain, the IPPR has put its estimate at 761,000. Labour has subsequently cited these “uprated” figures.
Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, one of the authors of the IPPR report, told FactCheck: “Eurostat figures are based on European censuses, which are notoriously bad. For example, the Spanish massively underestimate the number of Britons living there. Official statistics in migration are problematic in every way.”
The Labour Party added: “We would also highlight that the Prime Minister made clear that this was an estimate when he used these figures in his speech on 31 March – he uses the word “around” on two occasions.”
Cathy Newman’s verdict
Gordon Brown was in the right ballpark when he talked about 1m Brits living abroad. But he under-estimated the number of immigrants living here. Labour insists his overall point – that the number of EU citizens here equals the number of Brits in Europe – was correct.
But the party’s claim about the number of Brits abroad is based on jacked up – and somewhat dusty – data from its friends at the IPPR. Even if the think tank is right that up to 1.6m Brits live in the EU, that’s still tens of thousands fewer than the 1.8m EU citizens living here, even if some may be temporary residents.
So, to put it simply, there are more European immigrants arriving here than Brits leaving for Europe. What the PM told Mrs Duffy was not only out by several hundreds of thousands, but official statistics appear not to back up his claim.