EU Referendum

Taxman REFUSES to release data which could reveal the true level of EU migration to Britain because it would be ‘unhelpful’ to the Prime Minister’s renegotiation hopes

  • More NI numbers are issued every year to migrants than officially arrive
  • Former civil servant Jonathan Portes asked how many numbers were used
  • But HMRC refused to release the data because of Cameron’s EU talks 

The tax office said it held the data but refused a freedom of information request on the grounds the public interest was best served by keeping it secret.

Former civil servant Jonathan Portes made the request during an investigation into why thousands more national insurance numbers are issued to EU migrants each than officially arrive in Britain.

Academic Jonathan Portes has investigated by official migration numbers, shown above, are lower than the number of national insurance number issued to EU migrants each year.

 He asked how many of those national insurance numbers are active – either to pay taxes or to receive benefits – on the basis this could reveal how many new migrants are actually in Britain.

In a blog post, Mr Portes said he ‘suspected’ his research would show migration was significantly higher than indicated by official labour force or migration statistics.

 But the former chief economist at the Cabinet Office added: ‘I don’t know that and I’m quite willing to be proved wrong.’

The row emerged as David Cameron arrived in Brussels for the latest round of talks on his planned EU renegotiation.

The right of new EU migrants to claim benefits in Britain is a key sticking point at the summit.

David Cameron has arrived in Brussels for talks with other EU leaders about Britain's membership, including migration figures

 In the official reply to Mr Portes’ request, HMRC policy advisor Philip Hogan said: ‘There is a public interest in greater transparency which makes Government more accountable to the electorate and increase trust.

‘However, following the General Election, there is an active negotiation process at an international level in which UK Ministers and officials are engaged to secure support from the European Commission and other Member States for changes in EU law governing EU migrants’ access to benefits in the UK, in line with the Government’s manifesto commitments.

‘The information is being used to inform the development of policy options as part of the negotiation process and therefore relates to the formulation of Government policy.

‘HMRC continues to believe that releasing information in the form requested would, at this stage, be unhelpful to the negotiation process.’

Mr Portes dubbed the response ‘astonishing’.

He said: ‘I have not asked for any information whatsoever relating to the government’s policy proposals or its negotiating position, whether to do with migrants’ entitlement to benefits or anything else.

‘I simply asked for some numbers on the recent migrant population in the UK.

‘How would releasing this information in any way be harmful to the negotiation process?

‘Does the government really believe that it is easier to formulate and negotiate policy if it conceals factual information from the public?’

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