The population of some towns is now a third European, new analysis from The Telegraph can reveal, as the full scale of EU migration to Britain in the last decade becomes clear.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), under which EU citizens resident in Britain before the end of last year can apply to remain permanently post-Brexit, was expected to attract between 3.5 and 4.1 million applications, according to 2019 Home Office analysis.
But as the scheme’s June 30 deadline approaches, some 5.61 million people have applied, two million more than predicted, with the overwhelming majority approved to live and work permanently in the UK, and eventually become citizens should they choose.
The Telegraph analysis of the scheme reveals that EUSS applicants comprise some 35 per cent of the populations of the London boroughs of Newham and Brent. Overall, some 1,834,680 people have applied in London, making one in five Londoners an EU citizen.
Boston, in Lincolnshire, has the highest proportion of EU citizens outside London, at 31 per cent. Peterborough, Leicester, and Corby also have high proportions of EU citizens – more than a fifth.
The population of Northampton, officially just over 200,000, is now 22 per cent European, putting it 17th on the list.
Its Romanian community has grown in a single decade to comprise a tenth of the town, with 22,300 applying to settle.
Which parts of the UK have the highest European populations?
The analysis also reveals the startling extent to which official statistics have underestimated EU migration to the UK in the last decade.
So far, a combined total of 1,116,000 Bulgarians and Romanians have had their applications approved, more than double the latest ONS figure for the entire population of Bulgarians and Romanians in the country, which was thought to stand at 523,000.
Ignorance about the true numbers over the last decade made planning public services near impossible, according to Professor Alan Manning, chief of the government’s Migration Advisory Committee until 2020.
"This laissez-faire attitude to migration was one of the problems that the UK got into … this thing about not knowing how many people are in a particular town.
"If you need to know how much money to give them for their health services you have to know how many people there are, otherwise there’s going to be trouble. I think all governments, going back, were a bit negligent on all of that."
The economist Jonathan Portes, Senior Fellow at the thinktank UK in a Changing Europe, described the EUSS as "the largest exercise in immigration administration the Home Office has ever done and one of the largest anywhere in the world".
He said the influx was comparable only to the immigration from the Caribbean and Asia that followed in the decades after Windrush.
"That really is the only comparable migration in our history and the implications for our society will take much longer to work through."
Analysis: ‘A lot of Eastern Europeans hold British culture in higher regard than British people do’
The deadline at the end of this month for EU citizens to apply for "settled status" in post-Brexit Britain marks the conclusion of one of the largest and smoothest immigration exercises conducted by any country in the developed world, ever.
Indeed, so smoothly has it gone that many Britons barely know it has been under way. Yet the ramifications for this country – politically, socially, demographically – now and in the decades to come, will be profound.
For a start, the numbers are immense.
The EUSS allows any EU citizen resident in the UK before this year to remain permanently – working, living and ultimately, if they choose, going on to become Britons themselves. In 2019, the Home Office estimated that “between 3.5 million and 4.1 million” would apply, based on ONS population and labour force surveys.
But as Alan Manning notes: "They obviously got it quite wrong."
The actual number of EU citizens wanting to stay, as of the end of May, was 5.61 million.
Brexit, far from pushing out immigrant populations, is locking them in, and in far greater numbers than we ever imagined.
With a last minute rush, the total may end up approaching six million – about nine per cent of the population.
Even so, the vast numbers have been processed online with a minimum of fuss, in a process whose scale and impact, says Jonathan Portes, is "comparable over a shorter period of time to the movement of people here from the Caribbean and from South Asia in the 30 years after Windrush. That really is the only comparable migration in our history and the implications for our society will take much longer to work through."
So where are the 5.6 million from?
Detailed Home Office data show who has applied to the EUSS by nationality, and where they are living.
Both sets of figures are startling, even though they only report as far as the end of March, when there were three months still to apply.
On the former, for example, more than 852,000 Romanians have had their applications approved, likewise 264,000 Bulgarians.
This combined number – 1.1 million – is surprising because it is more than double the latest ONS estimates for the entire population of Bulgarians and Romanians in the country, which stand at 523,000.
Yet if their numbers have been most underestimated, they are by no means alone.
Vastly more Greeks, Belgians, Swedes, Czechs, Spaniards, Lithuanians, Portuguese and Latvians have successfully applied than were thought to be here. "That’s quite a big deal," says Portes.
And where are they now?
Obviously, London in particular has drawn a huge number – 1,834,680 at the last count – meaning as many as one in five Londoners is an EU national. “The London numbers are just jaw-dropping,” says Portes.
Analysis by The Telegraph shows that the borough of Newham has the highest proportion, with EUSS applicants making up 35.57 per cent of the population.
Indeed, nine of the top 10 local authorities with the highest proportion of EU citizens are in the capital, with only Boston, in Lincolnshire, fourth highest with 31.34 per cent, interrupting the sequence.
But, as Frank Furedi, the Hungarian-born demographer and Professor of Sociology puts it, EU immigrants are "surprisingly everywhere".
And it is in smaller towns and cities, such as Boston, Corby and Northampton, that he says they can have "a disproportionate impact".
Credit: David Rose for The Telegraph
In Northampton, pictured above, for example, 49,360 people, or 22 per cent of the population of just over 200,000, are EU citizens who have applied for settled status, of whom about half are Romanians – a significant demographic development in under a decade.
The impact on public services
Inevitably, such swift and dramatic changes, unrecognised by official statistics, have caused problems for those trying to plan school places, say, or GP surgeries.
"This laissez-faire attitude to migration was one of the problems that the UK got into… not knowing how many people are in a particular town," says Manning. "If you need to know how much money to give them for their health services you have to know how many people there are, otherwise there’s going to be trouble.
"I think all governments, going back, were a bit negligent on all of that."
Local authorities, says Portes, routinely complained about the disparity between what they were seeing on the ground and official estimates, as it affected the grants coming down to them from central Government.
"It’s all about money. We have not been very good at all at measuring our population or population change. That we need to do a lot better in the future,” says Portes.
The political effect
Such a large number of people clearly have the capacity to redraw Britain’s political map.
How quickly they do so depends on if they go on to become UK citizens, for only citizens can vote in general elections.
History suggests that immigrants from poorer countries are most determined to do so, even if it’s just to avoid visa hassles going on holiday. More long-term Bangladeshi residents than Americans apply for a UK passport, for example.
But EU passports already confer many of the same advantages as UK ones, so the same impetus to acquire British citizenship may not apply.
On the other hand, EU immigrants have already proved far more committed to the UK than economists expected, despite being just a low-cost flight away from home.
“When they first arrived, we thought, of course, these people won’t be ‘sticky’,” says Portes. "We first realised we were wrong about five or six years later when we saw that lots of them were having kids, which is a pretty good indication that you’re likely to stay permanently."
His guess is that a very large proportion of EUSS applicants will stay permanently, and that "many of them will end up translating their settled status into citizenship."
Even if they do not, their children will become British citizens.
Whenever they do, says Furedi, "politically, they will not be passive".
Yet it’s not clear for whom they would cast their ballots. Many Eastern European immigrants, says Furedi, "are completely estranged by Labour’s wokeish identity politics", while the big government attitude of Conservatives under Boris Johnson is equally alienating to hard-working entrepreneurial types keen on low-taxes and personal freedoms – "the good rule-breakers, as I call them," says Furedi.
"If I was a political leader I would take them very seriously. They could definitely shift seats. There are some places where they can really have a big impact on the outcome. But I don’t think any party really has a strategy for them."
Northampton’s two constituencies, for example, are both held by the Tories with a roughly 5,000 majority – a 10th of the size of the potential 50,000-strong new voting bloc of EU citizens.
The social effect
Furedi also suggests that there is some truth to, and the UK may benefit from, the stereotypical image of the go-getting immigrant bringing with them ambition, hard work, entrepreneurialism and ambition for their children’s education.
"They’re sort of middle class in that education sense, even though they can be quite poor in a material sense," adds Manning.
Furedi tells the story of a school in Faversham where the arrival of a contingent of Polish children was initially greeted with local grumbles, only for them later to comprise the top 15 students despite having to learn English along the way.
"Not because Polish people are geniuses," he notes, "but because they have a very strong ethos of working parents who really push the kids. That’s quite prevalent."
Of course, the impact of an influx of observant Catholics, including Poles, on religious life in Britain has been well documented.
But increased congregations are just one strand in a new tapestry of behaviour.
"You can certainly identify local social impacts," says Portes. "London, despite becoming more left-wing, for example, is also becoming more socially conservative in some ways.
Fewer people drink alcohol, more people go to church."
The economic effect
Are the EUSS applicants – overwhelmingly of working age – the solution to our ageing population? The answer, largely, is no.
"It helps a bit but nowhere near as much as you think," says Manning.
Far more powerful a tool in righting the so-called “dependency ratio” of non-workers to workers, he says, is raising the retirement age.
And then there’s the fact that immigrants get old too – just like the rest of us.
The same goes for that other, hotly disputed aspect of immigration’s impact – whether or not it boosts the economy in the long term: the hard-working, do-anything arrival, says Manning, ends up looking like the locals – with a family, turning down grim jobs, sometimes claiming benefits or unemployed.
"Migrants become like us," he says.
Overall, he adds, "there’s a tendency to dramatise the economic consequences of immigration, both good and bad. The reality is actually it doesn’t have that much of an impact.”
Such economic assimilation is likely to be reflected more broadly.
The first wave of black and Asian MPs entered Parliament in 1987, a quarter of a century after 1962, when freedom of movement from Commonwealth countries to the UK was ended.
It is unlikely that EU immigrants will have to wait as long to make their own mark.
"Britain today is a far more open society," says Frank Furedi.
Nor will recent migrants, overwhelmingly white and Christian, have to overcome the barriers of racism and sectarianism that their forebears faced.
That has not stopped some suggesting that the EUSS will be the next Windrush scandal, turning long-term residents, including children and the elderly, into illegal immigrants overnight.
“That’s not terribly helpful talk,” says Jonathan Portes, who acknowledges that tens of thousands will miss the June 30 deadline, but expects the Government to take a "pragmatic" approach.
Indeed, this week the Home Office announced that from next month, immigration officials would issue 28-day warnings to those still outside the scheme.
"When I talk to Eastern Europeans, assimilation is not a dirty word for them in the way it is for the multicultural industry that exists in British society," says Furedi. "They think it’s really good."
In any case it will be – for people who feel no qualms about marrying outside their communities – inevitable.
"As soon as you marry out, things get mixed up pretty quickly,” says Manning. "The first generation born in the UK will still retain strong links with the home country, but then it becomes hard."
Migrants often want to pass on their language so their children can talk to grandparents.
"After that, though, the value of speaking Romanian, say, is close to zero."
Languages will disappear. Few Italian Americans today speak Italian. How many British Romanians will speak Romanian in 25 years’ time?
Why do we suspect these vast communities will become Britons so easily?
Partly because they’ve done it before.
After the Second World War, Poles were the second biggest immigrant group in Britain and, as Manning says, "they just more or less just blended into British society".
"For a lot of people from this part of the world," says Furedi, talking from Budapest, "Britain is still seen as a frontier, where they can make their mark on the world. And it isn’t just simply monetary, it’s also to do with a belief that they can have a different kind of life, a better one. It’s hard for British people to appreciate, but a lot of Eastern Europeans hold British culture in higher regard than British people do.”
‘The country would collapse without Eastern Europeans’
In Northampton Market Square, the smell of grilled meat and onions fills the air, writes Rosa Silverman.
"English strawberries, pound a box!" bellows one of the stallholders, over and over, as midweek shoppers drift through in ones and twos.
Perhaps it’s the size of the square that makes it feel half empty – it’s one of Britain’s largest, dating back to 1235 – or perhaps it’s because it no longer has the pull it once did.
"It used to be heaving," sighs trader Roger Judkins, 70, from behind his collectibles stall. "Now it’s my worst market."
But not everyone’s trade has suffered.
Further up the square, Eamonn Fitzpatrick, 71, has run his fruit and vegetable stall here for more than half a century.
The secret of its longevity? European Union migration.
Eamonn Fitzpatrick, pictured in Northampton Market Square, voted for Brexit because he didn't support uncontrolled immigration but welcomes those EU citizens who choose to make the UK their home
Credit: David Rose for The Telegraph
In Northampton, about 22 per cent of the 2019 population is estimated to be EU-born
Credit: David Rose for The Telegraph
"I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Eastern Europeans," he says. "They provide at least 40 per cent of my trade. They’re used to shopping in markets. British-born shoppers prefer the supermarkets."
Despite this, Mr Fitzpatrick was among the 59 per cent of Northamptonshire voters who chose Brexit in the 2016 referendum.
"I didn’t agree with uncontrolled immigration," he explains.
Yet with just days to go until the official June 30 deadline for EU citizens in the UK to apply for settled status, he hopes they will opt to stay.
"The country would collapse without them," he says, citing a recent visit to the local hospital, where he realised how many of the staff were foreign-born. "We definitely need them."
Since the EU expanded in the Noughties, extending the right to freedom of movement and residence to far greater numbers of Europeans, we’ve had only an incomplete picture of how many have settled where in Britain, and from which countries.
Now, applications to the resettlement scheme provide more clarity.
The data shows that outside of London, East Midlands towns have some of the highest proportions of EU citizens among their residents.
In Northampton, about 22 per cent of the 2019 population is estimated to be EU-born.
Of these, Romanians account for the largest share, making up an estimated 9.9 per cent of the town’s population, followed by Poles (3.9 per cent), Lithuanians (1.6 per cent) and Latvians (1.4 per cent).
The decisive local vote for Brexit suggests these demographic shifts have not been wholeheartedly welcomed by long-term Northampton residents.
But while those like Mr Judkins take the “send them all back” approach, others hold more nuanced opinions, now that the heat of the Brexit debates has died down.
"They’re doing things that English people are saying ‘I’m too good to do’," says Matt Wood, 45, who says he’s made more money busking on the street than he did when working in a local branch of Tesco until it closed down.
Busker Matt Wood, pictured, says EU citizens are doing the jobs English people think they are 'too good to do'
Credit: David Rose for The Telegraph
Now, he plays the Sailor’s Hornpipe on his fiddle outside one of the many empty shops in town. The faded letters spelling Moss remain just visible below the Tudor-style frontage of the building.
Millie, an 18-year-old student waiting on the square for a friend, blames "fearmongering and xenophobia” for the referendum result. “[People were led to believe] EU migrants would take their jobs,” she says. “But people who come into this country do more than people who were born here.”
This attitude has proved controversial in the past.
In 2014, a row broke out when Greencore Group said it would be recruiting from Hungary most of the 300 workers needed for its new sandwich factory on Northamptonshire’s Moulton Park industrial estate.
"There aren’t enough people around and it is not always the kind of work people have wanted to do,” said Allyson Russell, the company’s human resources director, at the time.
"That is the fine line," says David Mackintosh, the former Conservative MP for Northampton South. "The need for European workers while not creating the feeling of ‘them and us’ with people locally."
The town is famous for its shoe trade, which survives to this day thanks to overseas demand for high quality footwear.
Between homes on residential terraced streets sit stately Victorian factory buildings – a fair few of which remain operational.
On the middle floor of the handsome Tricker’s factory shop on St Michael’s Road, EU migrants are among the staff busy sewing, helping sustain a 192-year-old Northampton brand.
While manufacturing endures in the county town, it has also become an important logistics hub.
But according to Mr Mackintosh, the EU-born section of the workforce has not always been completely integrated.
"It always struck me on visits to factories and warehouses how the workers tend to stick to groups of English speakers and those speaking Eastern European languages," he says. "Unlike the post-War immigrants from Europe, the assimilation was different."
"Many had come to Northampton for work and had not intended to stay, so they lived and worked with others from their country.
"I think this lack of integration caused tension and was a reason for many to vote in favour of Brexit in Northampton. But this did not show any understanding of how much Northampton relies on the logistics sector, which was so dependent on these workers."
In common with many other towns and cities, Northampton’s high street has lost a string of big name retailers lately, among them Marks & Spencer (closed in 2018), Sainsbury’s (closed in March) and Debenhams (closed in May).
Not far from the town centre, however, the smaller, foreign-owned grocery stores and mini-markets – with names like Riga International and Krakow Supermarket – are busy.
Laura Vasnore, 29, moved here 11 years ago from Lithuania and now works in a grocery store called Perestroyka on Wellingborough Road – self-styled purveyor of the "best choice of Eastern European products in Northampton."
"It’s a welcoming town,” she says. “There’s a big Lithuanian community but I’m friends with British people, too. The people are nice."
She had her son here, has applied for settled status and has no plans to leave.
Paulina Kita, 37, who arrived three years ago from Poland and works in another of the Eastern European food stores on the street, agrees the town is welcoming and friendly, but does not plan to stay here long-term.
"I’m going back to my family,” she says, adding that this was her plan all along.
Victoria Miles, chief executive of Northamptonshire Community Foundation, runs some of the citizenship ceremonies for foreign-born residents who feel so at home here they’ve chosen to become British.
“[They’re] really keen to put their roots down and that feels really positive,” she says. While community cohesion isn’t perfect, she believes Northampton has been generally good at welcoming outsiders.
The acceptance of the town’s diversity by those born and bred here is “probably the biggest issue, as anywhere,” she says, admitting integration can take a while.
“But I do feel there’s good community spirit. A lot of people have embraced EU citizens coming along.”