By June, more migrants had crossed the Channel this year than in the whole of 2019, and, as of early August, more than 4,000 migrants had made the perilous crossing in approximately 300 boats. A poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies last week found that the majority (51%) of the British public believe the UK is now facing a migrant crisis while almost a third (31%) think otherwise.

Opinion varies slightly across the age groups. A plurality (39%) of 18-to-24-year-olds do not think there is a migrant crisis while less than a third (31%) think there is. In all other age groups, a plurality believes that there is a crisis. Concerns about a migrant crisis increase with age, and only a quarter of 55-to-64-year-olds and those over 65 do not think there is a migrant crisis.

There is significant division along political lines. A large majority (70%) of those who voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election think there is a migrant crisis and less than a fifth (17%) think otherwise. Those who voted Labour in the last election are more divided: a significant minority of Labour voters (38%) think the UK is facing a crisis, yet a plurality (46%) think the UK is not facing a migrant crisis.

By a small margin, the Conservative Party remains the most trusted party to handle immigration (28%) while a quarter trust the Labour Party the most (25%).

Although the Conservatives are most trusted to handle immigration, the net approval of the Conservative Government’s handling of immigration and border control stands at a net -15%. At this stage, only around a quarter (26%) approve, while 41% disapprove.

The Government’s approval rating for immigration and border control is particularly low among older people. Current Government immigration policy has a net -29% approval among those aged 55-to-64, and a net -30% approval among the 65+ age group. Given that the majority of voters in these older age groups intend to vote Conservative, such low approval ratings on a key issue may prove a significant challenge for the Conservative Party. Ultimately, older people are more likely to think there is a migrant crisis, more likely to vote Conservative, but also more likely to disapprove of the Government’s current handling of immigration.

A strong plurality (47%) of the public would prefer an immigration policy that allows fewer people to move to the UK than in recent years while just over a quarter (27%) wish numbers to remain the same. Only 14% of respondents would prefer to see more people move to the UK than in recent years.

Again, there are significant differences between age groups. A plurality (33%) of 18-to-24-year-olds and 25-to-34-year-olds would prefer for immigration numbers to stay the same as in recent years. In contrast, 53% of  45-to-54-year-olds, group, 64% of 55-64 year olds and 63% of those aged 65 or older would prefer fewer people to move to the UK.

The vast majority (70%) of 2019 Conservative voters would prefer there to be fewer immigrants coming to the UK with only a tenth (9%) wishing to see more. Meanwhile, a plurality (40%) of 2019 Labour voters want the number of immigrants being allowed to move to the UK to remain the same while 27% would prefer fewer and 22% would prefer more. Across all of the political parties and most of the age groups, increasing the number of immigrants allowed to move to the UK is the least preferred option.

A similar question was posed in early July, following the Government’s decision to allow British Overseas Nationals (BNOs) from Hong Kong to live and work in the UK. Results were incredibly similar to this week’s poll, suggesting that despite the recent revelations about the increased numbers of migrants crossing the Channel, concerns about immigration policy have existed for some time. The shark uptick in Channel crossings does not appear to have affected attitudes towards immigration more generally.

While most respondents favour a change in immigration policy, a plurality (36%) agree that the UK Government is now exerting more control over immigration than it did in the past decade; meanwhile, 30% disagree. When asked in early June, 44% of the British public agreed that the Government is exerting more control while roughly a fifth (22%) disagreed. Overall, the public appear to be gradually losing faith that the Government is exerting control over immigration.

Nevertheless, a strong plurality (45%) of the British public agree that immigration has a positive impact on the UK’s economy, while only a quarter (27%) disagree.

In contrast to all other age groups, a plurality (40%) of those in the 55 to 64 age category disagree that immigration has a positive impact on the UK economy, although 32% agree. Interestingly, those in the older age groups (65 or above) are generally split on whether immigration has a positive impact or not on the economy, which may indicate that their preference for a stricter immigration policy is not due primarily due to economic concerns.

Significantly, given that the majority think that there is a migrant crisis and a strong plurality believe that immigration has a positive impact on the UK’s economy, there is perhaps a separation in the public’s mind between the situation in the Channel and immigration policy generally. Most of the public agree that immigration can benefit the country yet also consider the rise in Channel crossings a ‘crisis’, adding nuance to the immigration debate.

Overall, the public believe that the UK is facing a migrant crisis and would prefer an immigration policy that allows fewer people to move to the UK. Older age groups are particularly concerned with the immigration situation; they are more disapproving of the Government’s handling of border control and are less likely to believe the Government is exerting more control than in the past decade. Given that the Conservative Party relies on support from older age groups, border control may need to become a focus point for the Government in order to retain the loyalty of its base. However, a significant minority of Labour voters do believe that there is a migrant crisis and wish to see fewer people move to the UK than in recent years, and the Party will soon have to clarify its stance on the issue. Immigration is an issue that both the Government and Opposition will need to handle, especially with the transition period drawing to a close.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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