We still don’t know what the British public thinks about immigration

Concern about immigration is widespread, but what are Britons willing to sacrifice to take control?

 

Immigration is a major political issue, more so than many affluent, London-based politicians and commentators understood ahead of the EU referendum.

However, while we know that large swathes of the British population are concerned about immigration, we have limited data on how concerned they are, what policy options they most support, and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to reduce immigrant numbers.

For example, a poll published this morning by Demos and Comres suggests that huge divides remain on immigration from the EU, with greater support for freedom of movement than many believe.

Respondents were asked to choose between three reciprocal options for Britain’s immigration relationship with the EU.

Just 20 per cent supported the current freedom of movement arrangements, while 41 per cent accepted the principle of freedom of movement but want greater restrictions on criminals and limitations on the benefits available to EU citizens in the UK.

A significant minority of 39 per cent supported a points-based system or similar, as enthusiastically endorsed by Leave campaigners.

The results are interesting, and many have interpreted them as showing greater support for freedom of movement than common political narratives suggest. However — as is inevitable with polling — the figures generate more questions than answers.

Most significantly, it does not tell us how many of those who are dissatisfied with freedom of movement are so frustrated that they believe restricting immigration is worth an economic downturn.

Research published earlier this year suggests that, while a majority support restrictions of EU migration, that support drops below 50 per cent if the restrictions result in penalties on trade and business

This is the key question the British people need to answer since, however vehemently British politicians deny it, restricting freedom of movement will mean restricted UK access to the European single market, with all the economic costs that entails.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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