According to a poll conducted in early July by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, the UK public remains in favour of the Government’s decision to allow British Overseas Nationals (BNOs) from Hong Kong to live and work in the UK, but support has declined slightly in the past month. Our poll found that 50% of respondents approve of the policy, a slight decrease from early June when our poll found a 56% approval rate. Similarly the proportion of respondents expressing disapproval has slightly increased from 12% in June to 18% this month.
These findings come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Wednesday that Britain would follow through with its proposals to offer BNOs an immigration route to the UK following the imposition by Beijing of a new National Security Bill for Hong Kong, which came into force 30 June. Following Wednesday’s announcement, the UK government now plans to offer all eligible BNOs and their dependants a bespoke immigration route with a five year visa to remain in the UK. After the five years elapse, they will be able to apply for settled status, and after another year, for citizenship.
There is particularly strong support among 2019 Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters who support the policy at 53% and 66% respectively. While Liberal Democrat support likely comes from the party’s liberal views on immigration, Conservative support might come from the growing China-scepticism among the Tory grassroots and a desire to boost ‘Global Britain’s standing on the world stage. However, among 2019 Labour voters, support is slightly lower at 48%. This percentage is a 9-point decrease from our last poll in June when 57% of 2019 Labour voters expressed their approval. Nonetheless, this figure still represents a plurality of Labour voters voicing their support.
One contentious issue has been whether this immigration route should apply just to the 350,000 people who currently hold a BNO passport, or, as the government has now decided, to all those eligible for one (around 3 million people) and their dependants. Respondents were almost equally divided in thirds between agreeing (35%), disagreeing (33%), and not knowing (32%) about the Government’s decision to welcome all those eligible for a BNO passport and their dependents, as opposed to only current passport-holders.
When asked the same question in June, a plurality (40%) expressed support for welcoming all those eligible, suggesting opinion has somewhat hardened. The proportion who don’t know has remained stable at 32%.
The broad levels of support for the policy, however, come as a plurality of respondents continue to favour an immigration policy that allows fewer people to move to the United Kingdom than in recent years (46%). If the Prime Minister has judged that his government’s decision will be palatable to his base and to the broader electorate, then his judgement is somewhat borne out by the poll. Even among the plurality who wants to let fewer people migrate to the UK, a greater proportion (38%) approve than disapprove (31%) of the BNO policy. Likewise, among the 28% who wants to let the same number of people migrate to the UK, there is overwhelming support for the BNO policy (65%).
Polling by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in Hong Kong in June suggested that up to 15% of Hong Kong residents, regardless of their current BNO status, would consider moving to the United Kingdom in the near future. While many of those within this group may also be considering other countries, such as Taiwan, that result nevertheless sets a high upper bound of 900,000 potentially moving to the United Kingdom.