EXCLUSIVE: Polling suggests Labour should think again before rejecting freedom of movement

Poll: Brits back shared rights to live and work in the EU.

(Pictured – potential Labour leadership candidates L-R: Angela Rayner, Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer, Jess Phillips, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy)

New polling from YouGov has shown that – contrary to the popular narrative – freedom of movement continues to be popular in Britain.

The survey results – published exclusively by Left Foot Forward – come as some commentators suggest Labour’s policies on freedom of movement cost them support in the General Election.

Leadership candidates are currently preparing their policy platforms – amid fears that some will back a ‘tough’ approach to immigration after Brexit. Progressive campaigners say they’re concerned that potential candidates will learn the wrong lessons from last week’s defeat.

The findings come as Boris Johnson prepares to ramp up controls on migration after Brexit. During the election Boris Johnson pledged to implement an ‘Australian-style points based immigration system’.

The survey by progressive network NEON, conducted on the eve of the General Election, showed that 54% of Brits support the right of other EU citizens to come and work and live in the UK, in exchange for UK citizens having the right to go and live and work in EU countries. Only 25% of people oppose it. 

Labour party’s conference in September backed continued freedom of movement between the UK and the EU – though there has been disagreement among some trade union backers of the party. Jeremy Corbyn did not endorse the policy during the election campaign.

Maya Goodfellow, migration expert and author of ‘Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats‘ said:

“This polling shows support for freedom of movement is high in the UK. Public opinion isn’t static but can change – contrary to popular wisdom, anti-immigration sentiment is not an inevitability.

“Labour leadership candidates should engage with this and recognise the party should not move the right on immigration, support for maintaining and extending free movement at Labour party conference was not the problem.

“The next Labour leader should be aware that changing the debate on immigration is possible – and that they should challenge the government’s anti-immigration policies.”

Nicolas Hatton from the 3million – who campaign for EU citizens in the UK, said:

“It’s clear freedom of movement is popular with people because it gives them the freedom to live, love and work wherever they wish in the EU.

“Millions of Brits are enjoying their freedom of movement on the continent, mirroring EU citizens in the UK and there is a lot of anxiety out there about Brexit ending Freedom of movement, and being dependant on complicated immigration rules, which are often perceived as unfair.

“As we enter further Brexit uncertainty it’s clear that this issue will be a hot topic – we hope that ministers remember that Brits support the right for them and EU citizens to live, work and study across the EU and the UK.”

The website freemovement highlighted the detail of Tory immigration plans after Brexit last week:

“While many of the ideas in the [plans] are reheated, the governing one — ending free movement of workers from the European Union — suffices to make it radical. But the plan only covers economic migration…many other areas of the immigration system [remain]: a “compliant environment” of citizen-on-citizen document checking, restrictive rules on visas for spouses and elderly relatives, sky-high fees and a creaking asylum system.”

YouGov polled a representative sample of over 1600 GB adults between 11th – 12th December 2019. The full polling results can be viewed here.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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7 Responses to “EXCLUSIVE: Polling suggests Labour should think again before rejecting freedom of movement”

  1. Tom Sacold

    The EU’s freedom of movement is a direct result of the EU’s commitment to capitalist market economics.

    It is designed to encourage movement of labour from low wage areas of eastern Europe to high wage areas of western Europe, thus keeping wages in Germany, France & UK etc. lower than they would otherwise be.

    The Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties were designed to turn the old social democratic EEC into the capitalist EU. The EU puts the interest of its multinational corporations first, not the workers.

  2. Alice Aforethought

    The sort of poll question that this article relies on is designed to provide the commissioner of the poll with the answer that they wanted to hear. The answer’s unreliable unless the inevitable corollary questions that go with it are also asked.

    Eg, If you ask people do they want a piece of cake, they’ll all say yes. If you ask them do they want to be fat and diabetic, they’ll all say no. If you ask them if they still want a piece of cake, they’ll now say no. If you focus only on misunderstanding the first answer, you lose four general elections in a row.

    In the same way, if you ask the billy bunters whether they approve of freedom of movement, that’s only question 1. The answer you get back is completely meaningless unless it’s coupled with those to the further, related questions that FoM entails. Eg, do you also want:

    2/ Your wages competed down by foreign workers?
    3/ Road and public transport to be more congested?
    4/ Public services such as the NHS to be stretched to breaking?
    5/ A housing shortage?
    6/ 30 languages spoken in your child’s primary school?

    It may be that “freedom of movement continues to be popular in Britain”, but only if you stop there. By the time the people have got to question 3 or 4, it’s not so popular any more, is it?

  3. Lucy Walker

    With a government majority of almost 90 (if you count the sinn fein no-shows) what labour votes for is an irritating irrelevance – Blair taught us that, if nothing else, in 1997.

  4. Cole

    Alice – you don’t conduct opinion polls by making a list of all the arguments on one side of the debate. The polling was done by YouGov, an expert and respected polling organisation.

  5. Nick Elvidge

    Polling is about as respectable as PR and advertising – simplifying issues in this way leads to an undermining of democracy.

    Polling is misleading in the same way that there are lies, damned lies and statistics – especially as we have a constituency based system – matters not if 54% overall support freedom of movement if they are all in London

    Ban polls during election period, period.

  6. Alice Aforethought

    @ Cole

    If you only ask half the question, you can’t rely in any way on the answer. It doesn’t matter who’s asking half the question.

  7. MAG

    Wouldn’t it be more instructive for the formation of policy to refer to publicly available statistics rather than polls. Consider the latest HMRC schedules (22.08.2019 for year 2016-17)) on foreign national tax/Ni contributions, child benefit and tax credits record:

    6.5 million or are or were working foreign nationals with a tax record, divided between EU and non-EU citizens as follows:
    1 3.6 million were EU working nationals with 1.5 million (about 40%) having no income tax
    liability.
    2 2.5 million were non-EU nationals with 1 million (again about 40%) having no income tax liability.

    3 The income heterogeneity factor for EU nationals is about 6, e.g. an average French national pays about 6 times more in tax/Nics than an average E8 citizen, and far more than the UK average, and with a substantial positive fiscal contribution to which is added a significant multiplier effect. These high income levels are a dynamic and important contribution to the UK economy.

    4 On the other hand whilst foreign nationals do not claim more in benefits than the UK average (marginally less) benefits constitute only about 5% of public expenditure. Unfortunately In terms of contributing towards the other 95% of public expenditure the substantial positive fiscal contributions referred to above are largely wiped out by the 2.5 foreign nationals that do not pay income tax. These statistics may indicate the widespread exploitation of foreign labour which has tended to reinforce lower income levels generally.

    5 It should be obvious from these strikingly wide parameters that using the term ‘immigration’ without any identification of its component parts is evidence of statistical illiteracy. Nevertheless and notwithstanding the static income levels of the past 10 years considerable efforts have gone into successfully persuading many of the benefits by using these imprecise generalisations. However, if you are actually wondering what has happened to any equitable distribution of the benefits (not even touching on housing), and the identity of those doing the persuading, assistance can only come from the old journalistic maxim of ‘follow the money’.

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