Net migration to the UK rose to 333,000 in 2015, according to the Office for National Statistics estimates – the second highest figure on record.
Net migration is the difference between the number of people coming to the UK for at least a year and those leaving.
The net migration figure for EU citizens was 184,000 – a record number.
Boris Johnson said David Cameron had been “cynical” to promise to bring net migration down to below 100,000 while the UK was part of the EU.
Speaking to BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, the Conservative MP and former London Mayor Boris Johnson said it was “cynical and unacceptable to say you can fulfil that pledge”.
“I think that they (the figures) show the scandal of the promise made by politicians repeatedly that they could cut immigration to the tens of thousands and then to throw their hands up in the air and say there’s nothing we can do because Brussels has taken away our control of immigration,” he said.
Mr Johnson, a leading figure in the campaign to get Britain out of the EU in June’s referendum, said he was pro-immigration but there was “no public consent for the scale of immigration we are seeing” and the situation was “completely out of control”.
He said that the only solution was to leave the EU, saying that a vote to stay in the union would mean people “kissing goodbye permanently to control of immigration”.
But Home Office minister James Brokenshire said David Cameron’s renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU, which will see restrictions placed on the benefits new arrivals can claim and a crackdown on “sham marriages”, would “close back-door routes” into the country.
“Leaving the EU is absolutely no panacea or silver bullet,” he added, telling BBC News that net migration from outside the EU was higher than from within it and leaving would “wreck the economy and harm jobs”.
In other developments, with four weeks to go before the UK votes on 23 June on whether to stay in or leave the EU:
- The BBC will stage its first EU referendum debate in Glasgow later
- Alex Salmond and Liam Fox will be among MPs questioned by voters aged 18 to 29
- The Leave campaign says “foolish” EU procurement rules cost the UK £1.6bn a year
- The Scottish Parliament is to formally back the case for staying in the EU
- Ryanair is accused of breaking electoral law in its campaign for staying in the EU
- Nick Robinson looks at the issue of Indian restaurant chefs and the EU vote
According to the Office for National Statistics, there was a 20,000 rise in net migration to the UK from the 313,000 for the year to December 2014.
The figure is well above the government’s aim of getting it to the “tens of thousands” and is the highest recorded for a calendar year.
- Total net migration to the UK is running at over 300,000 a year despite the government’s target of cutting it to under 100,000
- Migration from the EU accounts for just under half the total
- EU citizens have the right to live and work in any member state
- It is impossible to control immigration as a member of the EU
- Public services are under strain because of the number of migrants
- High immigration has driven down wages for British workers
- The official figures underestimate the true level of migration
- Immigrants, especially those from the EU, pay more in taxes than they take out
- Cameron’s EU deal means in-work benefits for new EU migrant workers will be limited for the first four years
- Outside the EU the UK would still have to accept free movement to gain full access to the single market
- Immigration is good for the economy
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Thursday’s figures show estimated levels of long-term migration into the UK from within the EU and outside in the year to December 2015.
They show that 270,000 EU citizens moved to the UK for at least a year in 2015, up from 264,000 in 2014. The number of non-EU citizens moving to the UK was 277,000, down from 287,000 in 2014.
The rise in the net figure was the result of a fall in the numbers of people emigrating.
Analysis By Home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani
The net migration figure is just short of the record but that statistic alone doesn’t do justice to the global picture and the UK’s place in it. Everywhere you look, people are on the move – coming and going depending on economic and political circumstances.
EU immigration is relatively stable – although there are more southern Europeans than before thanks to the Eurozone’s economic doldrums.
One really interesting figure, that doesn’t affect the population headcount – officially at least – is the 110,000 rise in short-term immigration to about 1.2m.
More people are coming for less than a year – such as short contract workers selected by employers who are looking internationally for the best people at the most competitive price.
But it will also include some Brits who spend part of the year here – and the rest living in the sun.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the numbers show “mass immigration is still hopelessly out of control and set to get worse if we Remain inside the EU, going on with disastrous open borders”.
Other ONS figures on employment show:
- The estimated employment level of EU nationals (excluding British) living in the UK was 2.1 million in January to March 2016 – 224,000 higher than the same quarter last year, according to the Labour Force Survey
- British nationals in employment increased by 185,000 to 28.2 million and non-EU nationals in employment increased by 5,000 to 1.2 million
- Over half of the growth in employment over the last year was accounted for by foreign nationals
- There were 630,000 National Insurance number registrations by EU nationals in the year to March 2016, an increase of 1,000 on the previous year. For non-EU nationals, there were 195,000 registrations, an increase of 2,000 on the previous year.
In a speech later – his first of the referendum campaign – former Labour Home Secretary Lord Blunkett will defend the last Labour government’s controversial record on immigration and criticise those who he says want to create a “fortress Britain”.
How to follow the BBC One EU referendum debate
- The first of three BBC referendum debates, hosted by Victoria Derbyshire, will be broadcast on BBC One from 20:00 BST
- There will also be live coverage on the News Channel, 5 Live and Newsbeat
- You can follow the action minute-by-minute on the BBC’s Live referendum page
- The BBC News Facebook page will livestream before and after the debate
- The BBC News Snapchat Channel will also be active before, during and after the debates