LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a blow to his re-election campaign on Thursday after his pledge to cut migration to the tens of thousands was undermined by new data showing a net 260,000 people moved to Britain in the year to June.
The data, which showed net migration was up more than 40 percent on the previous 12 months, is awkward for Cameron who is under pressure from the rise in popularity of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), which wants to strongly curb the number of people coming to Britain.
Immigration has shot to the top of voter concerns before a 2015 national election and Cameron has promised to reduce net migration to below 100,000 before the May vote, a pledge a senior minister in his Conservative party last week said the government was now unlikely to meet.
The figures showed immigration from the EU increased by 45,000 to 228,000 over the period, its highest recorded level. Non-EU migration also rose for the first time in three years.
The number of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, whose restrictions on working in Britain were removed on Jan. 1 this year, rose more than 75 percent to 32,000.
Cameron, who has vowed to renegotiate Britain’s ties with the EU ahead of a membership referendum in 2017 if he is re-elected, is due to set out before Christmas new plans to limit EU migration.
“That is where the government’s focus does continue to be and why we do need to address this issue of free movement,” Immigration Minister James Brokenshire told the BBC.
“We have made changes ourselves on welfare reform, on saying that you can’t simply walk into benefits in this country but I think it is clear that we do need to go further that we need to look at this part of our renegotiation with the EU.”
The Office for National Statistics said the number of people leaving the country had remained stable, and the rise in net migration had been driven by a jump in immigration to Britain. That figure rose to 583,000, from 502,000 the previous year.
“The eye-watering increase places immense strain on employment prospects, schools, hospitals and housing. There is nothing Cameron can say or do now that can right this massive wrong,” said UKIP migration spokesman Steven Woolfe.
Additional reporting by William James; Editing by Andrew Osborn