Tell us true number of EU migrants: Whitehall is covering up the shocking figure ahead of EU poll, say MPs

  • HMRC refuses to publish figures that could have impact on EU debate 
  • Up to 1.3million extra migrants are living in the UK, MPs claim
  • ONS figures show 904,000 EU migrants have arrived in Britain since 2010
  • But officials issued 2.2m national insurance numbers to EU migrants  

Top civil servants, led by HMRC boss Lin Homer, are refusing to publish figures that could reveal up to 1.3million extra migrants living in the UK. If revealed, the data could have an explosive impact on the EU debate.

MPs said the public were at risk of being ‘misled’ ahead of the ‘once-in-a-lifetime decision’ over whether Britain should re-take control of its borders. Requests to get to the truth have been thwarted for more than three months, with time now running out before the June 23 vote.

Top civil servants, led by HMRC boss Lin Homer (pictured), are refusing to publish figures that could reveal up to 1.3million extra migrants living in the UK HMRC boss Lin Homer has been frustrating attempts by Andrew Tyrie (pictured), head of Westminster¿s Treasury select committee, to obtain the data

The row centres on a huge gap between two sets of data relating to immigration.

Office for National Statistics figures show some 904,000 EU migrants have arrived in Britain since June 2010 – but in the same time, officials issued 2.2million national insurance numbers to EU migrants. The ONS yesterday admitted the numbers do not appear to add up.

Experts say the Government should release the amount of ‘active’ NI numbers, meaning those being used to pay tax or receive benefits.

HM Revenue and Customs admits holding the information, but has been refusing to answer Freedom of Information requests and Parliamentary questions on the matter.

Officials claim it would be too expensive to do so.

HMRC’s Dame Lin has been frustrating attempts by Andrew Tyrie, head of Westminster’s Treasury select committee, to obtain the data.

Mr Tyrie asked for the ‘active’ NI numbers in December but was sent a response in February which ‘did not answer the question’. He has now requested them again.

Officially, 257,000 EU nationals were said to have arrived last year, but 630,000 from the EU were given NI numbers. This includes 209,000 NI numbers given to Romanians and Bulgarians, despite only 55,000 officially settling here last year.

Tory backbencher David Davis tried to get the information, in a Parliamentary question but was refused on grounds it could be provided only at ‘disproportionate cost’.

Mr Davis said the difference between the two figures had significant implications for the job prospects of UK citizens, housing and public services, adding: ‘It is always important that the Government is transparent, but it is doubly important when the public at large are making a once-in-a-lifetime decision. There is absolutely no justification for withholding this information.’

The first request for the data was made by economist and former government advisor Jonathan Portes in November. The Government rejected the request in mid-December, saying that releasing the information would be ‘unhelpful’ to the Mr Cameron’s renegotiations.

Mr Portes appealed, but last month the Government again refused – this time claiming it would be too expensive.

A further appeal is before the Information Commissioner’s Office. Mr Portes said: ‘The Government has data on the number of recent EU migrants, which would shed considerable light on possibly the most important issue in what is certainly the most important electoral campaign in the UK in recent memory.

‘And its justification for not publishing … it would take more than three-and-a-half working days of one civil servant’s time. Perhaps we should no longer be surprised by this behaviour. The only question is whether our elected representatives will stand for it.’

The ONS said it ‘is undertaking ongoing reconciliation work’ on its immigration data and said NI numbers will be incorporated ‘when available’.

A possible explanation for the gap is that the ONS records only migrants who stay in Britain for more than a year, but people who work here for short periods of time require an NI number.

An HMRC spokesman said: ‘HMRC does not currently hold the requested information in a publishable format.’

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith welcomed remarks by the Archbishop of Canterbury that Britons have a ‘justified’ fear of mass immigration, but said silencing of the debate has been ‘terrible for the British people’.

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