The proportion of the population born overseas almost doubled in two decades to more than 11 per cent, according to data seen by The Daily Telegraph.
It meant that just under seven million people living in Britain were immigrants–enough to fill a city the size of London.
The rise was largely down to Labour’s “open door” immigration policy, under which three million foreigners were added to the population during the party’s 13 years in power.
The figures, which were compiled by the Office for National Statistics, were disclosed amid a renewed debate on immigration.
David Cameron warned yesterday that uncontrolled immigration had undermined some British communities and led to “discomfort and disjointedness” in neighbourhoods.
He said he wanted to reduce it from its current level of more than 200,000 a year to the “tens of thousands” before the next election.
His comments led to a split in the Coalition, with Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, saying they were “very unwise” and risked inflaming racial tensions.
National statisticians estimated that, on current patterns, the population would pass the 70 million mark in less than two decades and two-thirds of that rise would be driven by immigration.
The population stood at 61.14 million as of last June, the most recent estimate. Of that, 6.97 million were people who were born overseas–11.4 per cent, the highest proportion on record. About a third of those had been given British citizenship since arriving.
The proportion had been rising steadily year on year and was almost double the 6.7 per cent recorded in 1991 when the foreign-born population stood at 3.85 million.
Some 762,000 of those now in Britain came from those eastern European nations admitted to the European Union in 2004, which gave them access to the jobs market. The majority, 4.7 million, were people born outside Europe.
Britain now had a higher proportion of foreign-born residents than European neighbours such as France and Italy.
One in four babies was now born to a foreign mother, another record. In 1998, less than 14 per cent of babies were to a mother who had been born overseas.
Nicholas Soames, the Tory co-chairman of the Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration, said Labour’s “spineless and futile” attempts to control immigration had left a “grave situation”.
“This is the whole point of the problem and why it has got to be dealt with,” he said. “Immigration under the last government became completely out of control and it led, down the years, to what the Prime Minister has referred to as an imbalance.”
In 2009, Andrew Neather, a former adviser to Tony Blair, claimed that the sharp increase in migrants over the previous 10 years was partly due to a politically motivated attempt to boost multi-culturalism.
He said Labour’s relaxation of controls in 2000-01 was a deliberate plan to “open up the UK to mass migration” but ministers were reluctant to discuss such a move publicly for fear it would alienate its “core working-class vote”.
Cabinet ministers at the time denied any suggestions of “secret plots”.
The Labour government claimed that immigrants brought economic benefits and had the net effect of boosting gross domestic product by £6 billion a year.
However, in 2008, an inquiry by the Lords’ economic affairs committee, which included two former chancellors and a Labour economist, said such a measure was meaningless because it gave no indication of the benefit to each member of the population.
Evidence by Home Office officials to the inquiry estimated that the annual benefit of migration to the native population, which was known as gross domestic product per capita, was £30 a year or 58p a week in 2006.
David Coleman, an Oxford University academic, estimated in 2007 that immigrants cost the taxpayer £8.8 billion a year, when social costs such as pressure on public services, running the asylum system and teaching English were accounted for.
Nigel Farage the Ukip leader, said free movement within the EU would hamper any Coalition attempts to cut immigration. “It is clear that we cannot have our own immigration policy while we remain in the European Union,” he said.
Damian Green, the immigration minister, said: “As the Prime Minister made clear today, the last 10 years have seen record levels of immigration, and the British public quite rightly want to see these levels drastically reduced.
“That is why the Government is committed to reforming the immigration system, bringing net migration back down to the tens of thousands and clamping down on any abuses.
“We have introduced a new limit on economic migrants from outside the EU, major changes to the student route, and will soon unveil our proposals to reform both the family and settlement routes to the UK.”
Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “These numbers illustrate the huge impact on all aspects of our society as a result of the mass immigration that took place under Labour. The churn is enormous, with real and serious consequences for the cohesion of our society.”