22 Jun 2018

Attitudes to immigration haven’t softened since EU referendum, poll suggests

Our opinion poll suggests attitudes haven’t noticeably softened since the EU referendum. This comes as No. 10 seems to be heading for the sort of Brexit settlement which the EU thinks is only conceivable if the UK has a very relaxed immigration policy for EU migrants.

A poll for Channel 4 News by Deltapoll suggests that 70% of voters want migration from the EU reduced – the majority of them want a “big reduction”. Our sample suggested 73% support the government target of getting net migration down to the tens of thousands. When asked which is more important to them, 61% say controlling immigration, compared with 30% who say it is more important to fill job vacancies and to help the economy.

Other opinion polls are available, of course. IPSOS MORI detected 20% of their sample being more relaxed about immigration issues when they polled, though a sizeable chunk of them said they were less concerned because they were banking on tougher controls post-Brexit (the others look like they may have been engaging with the pro-migration arguments for the first time and revising some of their views).

Boris Johnson and others in the Vote Leave camp have suggested that the referendum result itself acted as a safety valve for immigration concerns and that there is not necessarily a pressure to cut back net migration numbers now people sense they are regaining control of the country’s borders. Michael Gove has talked about Britain being the most immigration friendly country in the past and the future.

Nigel Farage says “the Tory posh boys” sang his song on immigration in the latter stages of the referendum campaign and are now running away from the issue and talking of a “liberal Brexit”. He says attitudes haven’t changed and people want not just a sense of control but actual restrictions.

And the issue is about to come back centre stage. No. 10 is hoping to put together its policy position in the first week of July. Relevant ministers have been seeing relevant chapters of the draft White Paper. Some sections have already been through five or six drafts. But that may be exaggerating how close the government is to finishing the product for publication. And that’s before the EU27 come back spelling out what migration access they expect in return for Single Market-style access for UK manufactured goods.

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