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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8 Responses to “We still don’t know what the British public thinks about immigration”

  1. CR

    Uncontrolled immigration is the root cause of:

    Over demand for school places
    Over demand for NHS services and over spending by NHS Trusts
    Over demand for Local Authority services
    Over demand for housing
    Keeping British workers wages low
    Keeping British workers rights at a minimum
    Increased cultural costs

  2. Imran Khan

    Once again a silly title to this article. The overwhelming majority of people in this county including second and third generation immigrants like myself are against any more of the uncontrolled variety. Is there anything about that that the left don’t understand?

    When I see campaigns run largely by Labour members and supporters with titles like ” No Borders” and ” Nobody is Illegal” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The fact that the editor of this blog can turn out rubbish like this is indicative of why Labour will be out of power for a generation at least.

  3. Fernando Martinez

    The size of the foreign-born population in the UK increased from about 3.72 million in 1990 to over 6.4 million in 2010 meaning that 2.7 million immigrants come to the UK , 1.7 million foreign-born move to France, 3 million move to Italy and 4.8 million move to Germany
    Immigration in Spain
    The migratory process experienced by Spain in recent decades has certain unique features. One primary characteristic is the extraordinary volume and intensity of migratory flows to Spain and the sharp increase in the foreign resident population, particularly in the past decade. Spain has gone from being a country of emigration to being a net recipient of migratory flows

    According to aggregate data from municipal population registers, there were 923,000 foreign residents in Spain in 2000 out of a population of 40.4 million. Ten years later (in December 2010), this figure had increased to slightly over six million foreign residents out of an overall population of 45 million. In other words, in the past decade foreign residents have gone from representing 2.28% to 12.17% of the total population in Spain.

    Of the 4.7 million foreigners with legal residence in Spain in June 2010, slightly more than 48% belong to the European Community regime

    Between 1996 and 2007 the Spanish economy created almost eight million jobs, expanding from 12.6 million employed in 1996 to 20.5 million in the second quarter of 2007. This represented more than 40% of all the employment generated in the OECD in that period

    After this peak in employment, the global economic crisis, which has had a tremendous effect on the Spanish economy, has led to the destruction of more than two million jobs
    Immigrant workers, who played a key role in this whole process, making up a large share of the new workers employed during the boom, have now taken on a disproportionately
    high share of the cost in the form of unemployment. With their incorporation into the Spanish labour market, immigrant workers have contributed to the introduction of flexibility (in terms of hiring, working conditions, salaries and geographic and functional mobility), particularly in certain sectors and employment niches; however, at the same time, they have also provided a “buffer” from the most negative effects of the crisis for Spanish workers

    . At the end of 2001, the number of foreigners affiliated to the social security system was around 600,000 (a little less than 4% of affiliated workers). By the end of 2007 that number had increased to almost two million foreigners contributing to the coffers of the National Institute of Social Security (Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social, INSS) (10.3% of total affiliates). At the beginning of 2010 the number of foreigners affiliated to social security continued being close to 1.9 million people (around 10.5% of affiliated workers) 1,747,114 in July 2016 This means that almost 4.3 million of foreign born weren’t affiliated to the social security system.

  4. Fred

    If you don’t know by now, Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin, you are beyond help.

    Incidentally, you have never stated what your favoured policy on immigration is. Neither has Adam Barnett, nor indeed any past or present staff writer or contributor to Left Foot Forward. Why is that? Why are all your articles about immigration critiques of the Right, and never state your own position?
    I think it’s because you secretly you favour completely open borders but you don’t have the courage to come out and say that. If I’m wrong about that, then let’s hear it.

    It’s a very simple question, Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin. Let’s have an answer. Exactly what is the position of Left Foot Forward on immigration? Write an article and post it.

  5. Michael WALKER

    Well here is someone who has the Answer.
    Matthew Goodwin
    Professor of Politics Uni of Kent. Senior Fellow Chatham House. Senior Fellow ESRC @UKandEU. Public speaker. Author Political Book of Year 2015.

    Says it all..

  6. Imran Khan

    Well, Niamh. Do you actually have an opinion. We would like to know. You are increasingly, like this site, becoming ridiculous.

  7. Anon

    It’s the hypocrisy that bugs me.

    John Reid told us, when he was part of a Labour government, that Labour increased immigration to bring down the cost of labour. And yet we have Labour campaigning on low wages.

    We also had Andrew Neather telling us that Blair intended to rub the right’s nose in diversity. And yet Labour continually lecture us all on cohesive communities.

    Give it up LFF, the public rumbled you long ago; for the working class (more fashionably described as ‘blue collar’ now) it has become obvious that this was an exercise in social engineering.

    If the liberal left in this country believe that whole swathes of people can be sacrificed for their glorious new world order experiment, then they can’t expect those same people to turn up and vote for the people who ditched them.

    The young people in this country are now radicalised to despise the previous generations – if the inhabitants of that particular demographic are white, Christian, and heterosexual they are guilty of the most heinous of crimes.

    And that is another of the hypocrisies at work here – it isn’t the old and white that hate, but the radicalised students in our universities, who are being taught to hate the UK and its people by people who have their own selfish and bitter agendas.

  8. Craig Mackay

    Labour really needs to develop a coherent Brexit package that they can campaign for enthusiastically. The Tories are badly divided and it is not at all clear that Teresa May’s hard right-wing version of Brexit will get through Parliament particularly through the Lords. Most pressingly we need a specific Labour package for immigration. For example, we could allow any EU citizen who has a written job offer from a UK employer to be permitted to work here provided the job was previously advertised in the UK for UK applicants. The same conditions would apply in reverse for UK citizens wishing to work in the EU. This is actually very similar to the present situation with non-EU workers except that they are subject to arbitrary quotas. It gives us the control we wanted and only people from the EU that British employers wished to take on could work here. It wouldn’t be the government in control of our borders but rather British businesses and industry. We then need a consistent view of the single market. We would have to serve all the legislative and technical requirements of operating within the single market. We could agree to pay a membership fee such as 1% of all exports into the EU single market.

    If Labour does nothing, says nothing and apparently thinks nothing then we can only expect it will have no influence whatever on Brexit. Such an approach will make it easy for a Tory government to undo all that has been achieved for social progress in the last 40 years. Labour cannot and must not let that happen.

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