Home Secretary Priti Patel has recently introduced the new Nationality and Borders Bill, aimed at overhauling the UK immigration system and introducing harsher punishments for both those entering the UK without permission, as well as those who aid their entry. The latest research at Redfield & Wilton Strategies surveyed the British public for their views, finding strong support for the new immigration measures, yet pessimism regarding their impact, with generational disagreement driving division.
With regard to all forms of immigration, including legal immigration, a plurality of 45% of Britons think there is too much immigration in the United Kingdom, compared to 31% who think there is an appropriate amount, and 10% who think there is not enough. A further 14% don’t know.
Age is an important indicator of opinion, with a plurality (46%) of 18-to-24-year-olds responding that there is an appropriate amount of immigration, while pluralities or majorities of all other age groups say there is too much. Of those who voted Conservative in 2019, 63% think there is too much immigration in the United Kingdom, while a plurality (39%) of those who voted Labour in 2019 think there is an appropriate level.
On the specific question of illegal immigration, however, a plurality do not blame the UK Government for the levels of immigration: almost four in ten Britons (38%) think that the French Government holds the most responsibility for the number of migrants attempting to cross the Channel from France to the UK, followed by a quarter (25%) who think the UK Government holds the most responsibility. A further 15% think the UK border force is most responsible, and 5% think the UK asylum system. 16% don’t know who has the most responsibility for the number of migrants attempting to cross the Channel.
A majority (58%) of those aged 65 and over think the French Government have the most responsibility for the number of migrants crossing the Channel. This opinion generally increases with age, with just a quarter (24%) of 18-to-24-year-olds sharing this view. A majority (57%) of 2019 Conservative voters think the French Government hold the most responsibility, whereas a plurality (33%) of 2019 Labour voters think the UK Government are most responsible.
Finally, there are high levels of support for migrants crossing the Channel to be sent back to France. A strong majority of 68% of the British public say they would support migrants being sent back to France, including 36% who would strongly support it. Just 14% would oppose this, 17% would neither support nor oppose it, and 5% don’t know.
Of those aged 18 to 24, a plurality of 36% would support migrants who attempt to cross the Channel being sent back to France, with 10% in strong support. By comparison, an overwhelming majority (81%) of those aged 65 and over would support this, with 57% in strong support. Clear majorities of 55-to-64-year-olds (71%), 45-to-54-year-olds (74%), and 35-to-44-year-olds (59%) would also support this idea.
Turning to more specific immigration measures, the Home Secretary Priti Patel has introduced a number of new measures aimed at tackling illegal immigration. The first of these introduces life sentences for people traffickers and the criminalisation of those who facilitate the entry of asylum seekers into the UK. A majority of 67% support this measure, with 38% who strongly support it. A further 15% neither support nor oppose it, 10% oppose it, and 7% don’t know.
Majorities of all age groups support this measure except those aged 18 to 24, of whom a plurality (43%) oppose it. Large majorities of those aged 65 and above (78%), 55 to 64 (76%), and 45 to 54 (76%) support this decision.
Majorities of both 2019 Conservative (86%) and Labour voters (57%) support this decision, suggesting cross-party backing for the Government measures introduced in the new immigration bill.
The second measure announced by the Government means that asylum seekers could be sent overseas or to offshore centres for processing. We find strong support for this measure amongst the British public, with a majority of 53% in support, including over a quarter (28%) in strong support. 18% oppose this measure, 22% neither support nor oppose it, and 7% don’t know.
Again, 2019 Conservative voters show high levels of support for this measure, with 74% in support––including 44% in strong support. Just 7% oppose the decision, and 16% neither support nor oppose it. By contrast, a plurality of 40% of 2019 Labour voters are in support, followed by a quarter (26%) who oppose the decision and a quarter (25%) who neither support nor oppose it.
Younger respondents are most divided: 32% of 18-to-24-year-olds oppose this measure, and 32% neither support nor oppose it, compared to 28% who support it. Conversely, those aged 65 and over are mostly in agreement, being likely to support this measure, with 65% in support, including 39% in strong support.
However, despite strong support for these announced measures, Britons are less optimistic regarding their efficacy at reducing levels of illegal immigration to the UK. A plurality (41%) think that it is unlikely that these new measures will reduce illegal immigration, compared to 27% who think it is likely. A quarter (25%) think it is neither likely nor unlikely to reduce illegal immigration, and 8% don’t know.
Interestingly, older respondents aged 65 and over are the most likely to say it is unlikely to reduce levels of illegal immigration. A majority (51%) say that the Home Secretary’s new measures are unlikely to reduce levels of illegal immigration, even amid their higher levels of support for the measures.
Overall, there are high levels of support for the Government’s new immigration measures amid plurality opinion that there is too much immigration to the UK. We observe age as the clearest and most consistent indicator of opinion, with older respondents most likely to think immigration is too high, to support sending migrants back to France, and to support the new measures announced in the Nationality and Borders Bill. Interestingly, they are also most likely to doubt the efficacy of these new immigration measures. Younger respondents appear more split, with no majority consensus regarding the level of immigration nor the newly announced measures.