New report reveals that favourable public opinion towards immigration could have significant impact on immigration policy in the UK

New report reveals that in the past 10 years, public opinion has warmed to immigration which could lead to changes in immigration policy in the UK.

A new report published by Professor Robert Ford from the University of Manchester and Marley Morris written for the Institute of Public Policy Research reveals that public attitudes towards immigration have warmed in recent years. This change of attitude could have a real impact on the politics of immigration in the UK.

The evidence suggests that there is now more scope for a welcoming, flexible, and fair migration system than many realise. Based on the findings presented in this report, the researchers argue that politicians should pay attention to this shift of opinion when making propositions regarding immigration policy in the UK.

The report shows that, following Brexit, concerns over the free movement of people within the EU have taken a back-seat and public attention to the issue of immigration has fallen sharply. In 2022, only 9% of the public saw immigration as a top priority compared to 44% in 2015.

Similarly, when asked about immigration, around half the population expresses positive views about the economic and cultural impact of immigration in 2022 compared to about a third in 2014. A large majority of the population also now believe that immigration is beneficial to the economy of the country which is a reversal of the balance of opinion 10 years ago.

This shift is however not evident in politicians’ current stance on immigration across the board. As Robert Ford explains in an opinion piece for The Guardian:

"Social conservatives thunder about the failure, yet again, to deliver the swingeing cuts they claim voters demand. Liberals prevaricate and change the subject, afraid their arguments are doomed to fail with a sceptical electorate. All the players are locked into the same old roles. None of them seems to realise the script has changed." - (The Guardian, 2022)

In recent years, there has already been a number of U-turns made by the current government following decisions showing a tougher stance on immigration than the public’s. The most recent one being the belated introduction of the ’Homes for Ukraine’ sponsorship scheme following an initially widely criticised response to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Equally, even those currently supporting the Rwanda plan for asylum see it as gesture politics and doomed to fail.

The report reveals that considering this shift of opinion is crucial for any government wanting to succeed both currently and in an upcoming general election. As with the fallout from the Windrush scandal, ignoring the public could have a political cost for politicians wanting to pursue harsh immigration policies.

To read more about the policy initiatives proposed by Robert Ford and Marley Morris, have a look at the report on the Institute of Public Policy Research website.