Liam Fox and Remain campaigners clash over Brexit's impact on housing

 
Mark Sands
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Defence Secretary Liam Fox Facing Inquiry Into Ministerial Conduct
Former defence secretary Liam Fox will blame immigration for high housing costs in the UK (Source: Getty)

Campaigners on both sides of the EU referendum debate are set to clash today over the impact of Brexit on the housing crisis.

In a speech at Vote Leave's offices today, former defence secretary Liam Fox will blame immigration for high housing costs in the UK. Meanwhile, Britain Stronger in Europe will hit out at Fox, arguing that "leaving the EU will wreck house building".

Fox will say: "As the government fails to control the increase in the population due to migration, it forces local authorities to build more and more houses to deal with the ripple effect. If we remain in the European Union we will be forced to accept unlimited free movement of people – but there will be no free movement of space coming with them. The inevitable result will be worsening overcrowding in our land limited country."

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Britain Stronger in Europe will condemn Fox, citing housing experts who have warned that leaving the EU will "worsen the housing crisis, bringing economic uncertainty and with it a stagnation in the housing market".

James Hopkins, executive chairman of Hopkins Homes, told the campaign group: "My greatest fear is that leaving the EU will exacerbate the housing crisis, bringing economic uncertainty and with it stagnation in the housing market. Instead of moving from 'Generation rent' to 'Generation buy' we could move to 'Generation debt'."

Jonathan Portes, principal research fellow at National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said that although immigration adds to the demand for housing in Britain, Vote Leave's policy changes will not have a significant impact on Britain's house building crisis.

Portes told City A.M.: "It is undoubtedly true that the UK has a housing crisis, and that immigration adds to the demand for housing. However, the primary driver is the failure of successive governments to increase house building – made worse by misguided policies like Help to Buy which mostly just push up prices. The immigration policy changes suggested by Vote Leave would have at most a modest impact."

Fellow economist Philippe Legrain, who supports liberal migration rules, slammed Fox's comments. "This is more than dog whistle politics, it's just demonising migrants for the failings of the British economy and the British public sector," Legrain said.

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"The bigger issue with the British housing market, which would exist even with much less immigration is planning restrictions which prevent us building extra housing. Generally EU migrants also pay in more than they take out so and pressure that exists on other public services is due to the failings of the public sector. In short, Liam Fox is talking rubbish."

The in-out referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union takes place on 23 June.

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