Other countries don’t worry this much about immigration – why does Britain?

The government's dishonesty is fueling public anxiety

Britain is leading the world when it comes to immigration-related worry, new polling published today shows.

In Ipsos MORI’s What Worries the World? study, immigration was the most significant worry for British people, with 42 per cent of British people highlighting it as a concern.

That’s a higher rate than any of the other 24 countries polled, including Germany, home to over a million refugees, and Turkey, which has over three million. Overall, immigration doesn’t even appear in the top five issues for concern.

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Of course, we shouldn’t dismiss people’s fears about immigration out of hand, or refuse to engage with them. But since Britain does not actually have unusually high immigration levels by European or global standards, we should surely question why people are so disproportionately anxious about it.

Today we’ve learned that the government has tried to suppress information that undermines its outlandish claims about foreign students outstaying their visas.

As the Times reports, ‘official statistics have been used to suggest that tens of thousands of foreign students “vanish” each year after finishing their degrees, but the latest study would suggest that the true figure is 1,500.’

In other words, the government has stoked public concern about a problem that doesn’t actually exist in order to justify extreme, economically destructive policy.

And this isn’t an isolated incident. Look at the Leave campaign’s ludicruous claim that Turkey was on the brink of joining the EU, or Amber Rudd’s decision to embrace David Cameron’s economically and politically incoherent target of net migration in the tens of thousands.

The Tories have fabricated an extreme problem with immigration, feeding public anxiety and distracting attention from their own economic and social failure. And it works: the areas with the highest numbers of Leave voters have very low numbers of immigrants. People voted based on a problem they have been told exists, but that doesn’t significantly affect them.

That said, it may be the case that even with the full facts British people would want a tougher line on immigration. But honesty with the public is a basic requirement of any government, and the sooner this one tells the truth about immigration, the sooner it can take its proper place among voters’ concerns.

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

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