Immigration and asylum is a top-three issue for nearly a third of Britons
It was recently reported that more than 40,000 people have crossed the English Channel this year to claim asylum in Britain. New YouGov data sheds light on Britons’ views on immigration in general and the government’s handling of it.
Immigration and asylum is a top-three issue for nearly a third of Britons (32%), up ten points since October. Seven in ten Britons (72%) disapprove of the government’s handling of immigration, including a large majority of 2019 Conservative voters (73%). But is government disapproval more related to the quantity of migrants or policy incompetence?
Among those who disapprove of the government’s immigration record, the top reason given is because the government is running the system in an incompetent or chaotic way (73%). Just under half (44%) believe the government is treating people unfairly or cruelly during the process and 42% say they are letting too many people in.
In the same vein, only 12% of Britons think the immigration system has clear rules about who can live in Britain, and only 4% think the rules are applied in an effective way.
The general level of hostility towards immigration has softened since 2016
Overall public opinion towards immigration remains negative: 57% of people think that immigration into Britain in the last ten years has been too high and by 30% to 24% they think it has been mostly bad for the country.
However, the general level of hostility towards immigration has softened since August 2016 – the proportion thinking the number of people coming to the UK is too high is down thirteen points from 70% to 57%. Yet the proportion thinking immigration is bad for Britain has only fallen by three points (30%) since 2016 (33%).
When asked about different types of immigration, or immigration from different parts of the world, Britons say there are many sorts of immigration they are more relaxed about.
Three quarters of Britons (76%) are happy with either the same or increased levels of skilled immigration, 69% are happy with existing or increased numbers of foreign students paying to study at British universities, and 72% are happy with the same number or more people fleeing persecution or war coming here.
Britons are also becoming more relaxed when it comes to familial immigration (people coming to join family members already in the UK) – half (50%) are happy with more or the current numbers of this group, up six points (44%) since 2017.
Public opposition to immigration now is higher than in 2016 only in one circumstance, in low skilled immigration – 43% think we should allow less (27%) or none of this group (16%) into the UK, compared to 41% who say they are happy with the present numbers (25%) or more (16%).
Britons are also sceptical about the legitimacy of migrants crossing the Channel
Although Britons are softening on different types of immigration, they remain sceptical about the legitimacy of migrants crossing the Channel. Three in ten (30%) think that most or nearly all people crossing the Channel are making false claims and nearly a quarter (24%) say a minority of those crossing are genuinely fleeing persecution. This may be one reason why 42% of Brits think the government are letting too many people in — because the legitimacy of asylum seekers is in question.
Britons are also split across party lines when it comes to tackling the issue of migrants crossing the Channel.
A majority of Labour voters (62%) think it should be made easier for people to apply for asylum in Britain from overseas, so they don’t need to try and cross the Channel in boats. In contrast, the most popular option for Conservative voters (36%) was to deploy the Royal navy to patrol the Channel and turnaround boats trying to reach the UK.