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British Future finds majority of public want post-Brexit immigration system to remain open to those with skills needed

Date of Publication: 
5 September 2017

Think-tanks says public are surprisingly united on how to manage migration

British Future finds majority of public want post-Brexit immigration system to remain open to those with skills needed

05 September 2017

The think-tank British Future said in a report published yesterday that Brexit is a reset moment for UK immigration policy and the new immigration system will need to win the support of most of the public while also working for business.

The 72-page report, Time to get it right: Finding consensus on Britain' s future immigration policy, is here.

While Brexit and the result of the 2017 General Election might suggest the UK is increasingly divided, British Future says it found a striking amount of common ground, across political and referendum divides, on how to manage immigration after Britain leaves the EU.

"There is clear public support, across political and referendum divides, for an immigration system that combines the UK control demanded in the referendum with the openness to skilled migration that our economy will continue to need, and which most people would welcome," British Future said.

Polling for the report by ICM found 86% of the public, and even 82% of Leave voters, would be happy to see high-skilled EU migration stay at the same level as now or increase after Britain leaves the EU. For low-skilled migration, however, 64% of the public, including 50% of Remain voters, say they would like to see the numbers reduced.

"A new post-Brexit immigration system that differentiates between skilled and low-skilled EU immigration sounds like common sense to most people," Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said.

The importance of some low-skilled immigration was recognised, with a majority of people saying they were happy to see the number of care-workers and the number of seasonal workers on farms and in hotels to remain at current levels or increase.

71% of those polled agreed with the statement that: "What we need now is a sensible policy to manage immigration so we control who comes here but still keep the immigration that's good for our economy and society, and maintains our tradition of offering sanctuary to refugees who need our protection."

The report also found that 63% of the public, and 71% of 2017 Conservative voters, think the Government should drop its headline "tens of thousands" net migration target and replace it with separate targets for different types of immigration, like skilled and low-skilled workers. Only 7% of the public disagreed.

Only 12% of the public – and just 14% of Conservative voters – think that the Government will actually meet its net migration target in the next five years.

The New Statesman reported that the report's findings increases the chance that the net migration target will be dropped when Theresa May leaves Downing Street, as no other senior cabinet member wishes to retain the target.

British Future concludes in its report: "The reset moment for immigration, presented by the Brexit decision, is a chance to engage with the public and seek to rebuild consensus and trust in an immigration system which manages the pressures of mass migration in order to secure the gains; which is effective and efficient but also fair; and which secures support across politics, business and the public. This engagement should be deep and ongoing, and we advocate an annual Migration Day report to Parliament from the Home Secretary as a focal point for continuing transparency and public scrutiny of migration statistics and policy. It should also lead to action: responding to concerns about the impacts on public services and housing in areas where the pace of change is highest by directing resources to those areas via a better-resourced Controlling Immigration Fund. Concerns about local impacts could also be eased by paying greater attention to integration at both local and national level."