Mon 29 November 2021

Is the United Kingdom facing a refugee, population or migration crisis? Andrew Levi takes a look at the facts, and concludes the real crisis is in the leadership of the country


Firstly, consider the refugee population in the UK, France and Germany, since 2016. The UK’s is flat. It’s a fraction of France’s and a small fraction of Germany’s.

  • France’s overall population is about 4% less than the UK’s. Germany’s is a little over 20% bigger.
  • France’s population density is somewhat under half the UK’s. Its 2020 refugee population is over three times bigger.
  • Germany’s population density is 15% less than the UK’s. Its 2020 refugee population is over nine times bigger.


Secondly, in the same timescale, let’s look at the populations of all three countries. They have been growing.

If the UK’s population growth is a “crisis”, it’s one we’ve been going through for a couple of centuries.

And not just the UK.

Something’s been happening around the world for over two hundred years.

The accelerating extraction of vast quantities of solar energy, fossilised millions of years ago – latterly also nuclear and renewables – driving economic and population growth on a scale vastly beyond anything ever previously seen.


Migration – both inward and outward – affects national population growth.  For the UK, the share of migration in what has been decreasing growth has fallen since 2016. (In fact, it has dropped sharply over more than a decade).

In France, it fell, then rose again.

In Germany, it fell sharply. (Without net migration, Germany’s population would have fallen. Overall population increase there has been slowed).

The Real Crisis

Incompetent leadership and governance can turn even benign situations into crises. Through failures of strategy, administration and humanity. But a “refugee crisis”? In the UK?

Looking at the numbers over the last six decades, it’s reasonable to say Germany has faced at least a couple. Wars in the Balkans and, later, in Syria and beyond, were the immediate causes.

But there has been no refugee crisis in the UK. Even though the same factors, in not-so-far-away countries of which many would prefer to know nothing, could just as well have led to a much higher refugee population here. If we had agreed to take in the people. We didn’t.

Do the facts reviewed above suggest a “population crisis” or “migration crisis” in the UK? It’s very hard to consider such terminology appropriate, based either on the long view, or on the latest figures and trends, to 2020, and taking into account the much-publicised fact that Channel crossings are up in 2021.

But there is a crisis. No question.

People risking their lives in the English Channel, or on other dangerous routes, is a humanitarian crisis. It’s caused by deeper crises of instability and conflict around the world. Some, increasingly obviously, are directly the result of environmental degradation and climate change. Some were caused by other geopolitical failures.

And there appears to be a crisis of leadership in the UK.

We should try fixing that. Fast. Then we might have a decent chance of tackling the multiple, serious challenges we, our neighbours and others face.

Andrew Levi is a technology investor and former government official and tech industry executive.


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