Sunday 17 April 2016

The number of Brits abroad

Regular readers will know that ITBB is monitoring More or Less's EU referendum coverage.

The first episode of this series debunked the most debunkable of pro-Leave claims (think cabbages) - a claim made by a pro-Leave chap on Twitter and a pro-Leave columnist in a newspaper.

The second episode began as if it was debunking a pro-Remain claim but ended up making its own pro-Remain case.

This third episode  also began by debunking a pro-Remain claim about the number of British expats living in the EU but was difficult to place in terms of pro-Remain or pro-Leave bias as it didn't discuss the matter in those terms. In other words, it didn't make anything of the numbers one way or the other. The pro-Remain argument behind the debunked claim wasn't made or even really suggested so that wasn't debunked. 

As it was interesting in its own right though, here's another transcript:

Tim Harford: This week there were figures in the news about the numbers of migrants who've been coming to the UK from other parts of Europe. But we've also had a number of listeners getting in touch with us about migration - not just about people coming to the UK but also how many Brits are migrating to live abroad. Immigration is a contentious issue where numbers are often bandied about when they're well passed their sell-by date. One website in favour of staying in the EU, Business for New Europe, suggests there are 2.2 million Brits living in the EU and newspapers and Twitter memes have suggested in the past that this is about the same as the number of EU citizens living over here. We're not so sure. So we asked Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, about the numbers that are available.

Madeleine Sumption: Well, the data that's probably best to look at this question with are from the United Nations and they produce estimates of the number of foreign-born people living in different countries. So in the case of Brits abroad this would actually be British-born people abroad, even if they have subsequently taken the nationality of that country. And those data...the most recent ones are the estimates for 2015 and they suggest that there were around 1.2 million British-born people in other EU countries, or a little closer to 1.3 million if you look at EEA countries (including, for example, Norway and Switzerland).

Tim Harford: 1.2 million. That seems like quite a lot. How does that compare to the number of EU nationals living here? 

Madeleine Sumption: Well, you probably want to compare it to the number of EU-born people living here, so that you have the same definition, and if you do that then the most recent data for last year suggests there are just over 3 million EU-born people living in the UK. 

Tim Harford: Just thinking about these 3 million people who were born elsewhere in the European Union and who now live in the UK, do we have a sense of who these people are? 

Madeleine Sumption: We do have a fair amount of data on the characteristics of these people. If you look just at people born in EU countries then that will include everyone, whether it's a student just coming for a couple of years or someone who has been here since the age of 2 and maybe was born to British parents living abroad. 

Tim Harford: The UN's best estimate is that there are 1.2 million British-born people living around the rest of the EU and just over 3 million EU-born people living here in the UK. Within the EU the top destinations British people head to are: At No.5, Italy; at No.4, Germany; at No.3, France; at No.2, Ireland; and at No. 1, it's Spain. Interestingly, the vast majority of people who emigrate from the UK do not go and live in other EU countries. The same UN data from last year show that of the nearly 5 million British-born people living outside the UK 3.7 million people live in countries outside the EU. There seems to be a preference for places where English is widely spoken: Australia, the USA, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and, of course, the Costa del Sol. 


  1. The Migration Observatory from which they drew their expert is a pro-migration lobby group posing as an academic institution that receives money from the EU by one of those complicated routes beloved of the EU Commission, so to disguise their tax-funded influence on public policy.

  2. Who cares how many are over there? Everyone currently working in Europe will be grandfathered in, whatever happens, of course. All the upper-middle class retirees in France and Spain will not suddenly be asked to take their spending and VAT and property taxes and go back where they came from. This is BS.

    As far as I can tell, British citizens working in the EU (not counting someone married to a European and living there) are there primarily for one of three reasons:

    Their job sent them there.
    The European employer needed someone with their skills not easily available locally.
    They're working in a bar in Prague or a coffee shop in Amsterdam.

    Only the latter group will probably be adversely affected by Brexit, and even then it would probalby only get more complicated to do it. The rest will have to fill out more paperwork, and apply for something or other, which is a pain. None of them will be sent home on June 24, 2018.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.