Friday 2 December 2016 4:02 am

As the ONS reveals net migration stayed near record levels before Brexit, is it even possible to reduce it?

Alp Mehmet, vice chairman of Migration Watch UK, says Yes.

It is most certainly possible for the UK to reduce migration levels.

Our vote to leave the EU gives the government an opportunity to end the free movement of workers, which is what has been driving migration from the EU. The majority (about 80 per cent) of those who have arrived in the last 10 years have taken low skilled and low paid work. Data from HMRC shows that such workers pay only around half the income tax and national insurance of the average UK taxpayer. Work permits, confined to those offered a skilled job paying a salary of say £30,000 per annum, could reduce net migration by 100,000 a year, while ensuring that Britain stays open to the kind of talent which business needs.

More will also have to be done on non-EU migration. The government has raised the income thresholds for non-EU workers and it should do more to ensure that students go home following the end of their studies.

Action is not only possible, it is essential to meet the democratic will of the British people.

Alex Greer, research and communications officer at Open Europe, says No.

Leaving the EU offers the government the chance to reduce immigration levels, but this is easier said than done.

Why? Because immigration plays an important role in keeping the UK economy and balance sheet healthy, helping businesses grow by filling skills shortages, maintaining demand for services such as higher education, and contributing to the tax base. Meanwhile, the likely dynamics of trade negotiations with the EU and non-EU partners alike means there will be some form of trade-off between openness to migration and access to other markets. The UK controls non-EU migration already, which still accounts for around half the share of inflows and alone runs at well over the government’s target. Leaving the EU won’t suddenly change this.

But if the public is to be persuaded of immigration’s benefits, Brexit clearly calls for more control over the nature of immigration to the UK and better investment in the public services and communities under pressure from population change.