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Net Migration to Britain Rises in Pre-election Blow to PM Cameron

FILE - British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at a UK Investment Summit in Newport, south Wales, Nov. 21, 2014.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives suffered a setback on Thursday, less than three months before a national election, after data showed they had missed a pledge to cut net annual migration to the tens of thousands by a huge margin.

Instead, official data showed a net 298,000 people moved to Britain in the year to September. That was an increase of more than 40 percent on the previous 12 months, and is awkward for Cameron who is under pressure from the rise in popularity of the UK Independence Party, which wants to strongly curb immigration.

With immigration one of voters' top concerns ahead of the close May 7 election, Cameron has set out plans to restrict EU migrants' access to welfare benefit payments in a bid to make it less attractive to come to Britain.

Releasing its final migration data before the election, Britain's Office for National Statistics said the number of EU citizens coming to Britain increased by 43,000 to 251,000 during the period.

Between October and December 2014 employment of EU nationals in Britain was 269,000 higher than a year earlier, it added.