2017: the British Future year in review

Posted on 31 December 2017

2017 was another dramatic year of political upheaval. With issues of identity, immigration and integration rarely far from the headlines, these were some of British Future’s main contributions to informing the public debate, both nationally and by engaging with the public across the UK on the choices that we now face.


The launch of the Brexit Together manifesto saw politicians from across the party and referendum divides set out the content of a Brexit deal that could appeal to a broad spectrum, of most Remain and Leave voters.

With Donald Trump inaugurated as President of the United States pledging an ‘America First’ agenda, Steve Ballinger saw an opportunity for civic society in Britain to extend its reach well beyond the usual suspects.


Our biggest project – the National Conversation on Immigration – kicked off with the Home Affairs Committee visiting Bedford and our first citizens panels in Bradford, March in the Cambridgeshire Fens as well as Whitley Bay and Aberdeen. The British Future and Hope Not Hate project had visited 45 towns and cities by the end of 2017, holding citizens’ panels  in every nation and region of the UK to explore how we could find a consensus on immigration, with another 15 local events to take place during 2018.

At the University of East Anglia in Norwich, the ‘Remain capital’ of the pro-Leave East of England, Sunder Katwala set out how university cities could choose to play an important role in addressing the ‘patchwork polarisation‘ of attitudes across the country, by focusing on their local commitments as well as their international links.


The Brexit Select Committee report unanimously recommended an immediate guarantee of the status of EU nationals in Britain. It set out the need for a new ‘fit for purpose’ system to process over 3 million cases, citing and adopting many of the recommendations from British Future’s inquiry panel, which had published its own report in December 2016. These included a new streamlined system; reducing the administrative burden on applicants and employers by using existing government data; and ditching the little-known rules on health insurance which accounted for a high proportion of refused applications for settled status.

The government triggered Article 50, beginning the two-year period of negotiations on Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Our publication Immigration after Brexit: challenges for economic stakeholders argued that employers would need to find new arguments if they were to have a more effective voice in seeking to shape changes to immigration that could meet the needs of the economy and secure the political and public consent that would be necessary.

After the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge, our trustee Imam Qari Asim set out the importance of a shared British identity in tackling terror and extremism.

In Belfast, we brought members of local Muslim and working-class loyalist communities together, to learn about the Commonwealth and Muslim contribution to the first world war, and what that means for identity today.


British Future marked its fifth birthday, publishing Bringing Britain Together, setting out highlights from our first five years, and how we intend to address the challenges of an increasingly polarised debate in future.


As six new Metro-Mayors took office for the first time in the May local elections, a new British Future publication Integration: from national rhetoric to local reality set out how each of them could help to fill the vacuum on integration policy, recommending how strategies for integration could address the specific challenges for their cities and regions.

As the snap General Election campaign began, British Future published our Manifesto Challenge – recommending 10 steps which could restore public trust on immigration and integration.

The terrorist attack on Manchester Arena claimed 23 lives, followed by an attack on London Bridge on June 3rd. Writing for CapX, Sunder Katwala reflected on how an election campaign twice suspended by terror raised important issues for a long-term integration strategy,  praising how Manchester’s memorial pop concert sent the defiant message ‘we love life more than you love death’ to nihilistic terrorism.

The National Conversation was in Bolton during the week following the attack, and heard about local pride in Manchester’s public response, and how shock events can disrupt efforts to build integration.


At 10pm on June 8th, the dramatic exit poll revealed that Theresa May’s election gamble had not paid off. Commenting at ITN, Sunder Katwala set out why a cross-party approach would now be necessary to deliver Brexit.

The Conservatives formed a minority government, with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party.

The National Conversation on Immigration had visited Northern Ireland during June – hearing tangible uncertainty about Brexit in Derry/Londonderry  and finding more pragmatic support for the benefits of low-skilled migration in Dungannon than in agricultural settings in England.

The 2017 House of Commons once again broke records as the most diverse ever: British Future was first to reveal that the new House would have 52 ethnic minority MPs, showing how ethnic diversity had become a new norm in British politics.

The Great Get Together saw millions of people support Brendan Cox’s effort to remember Jo Cox, on the anniversary of her murder, by upholding her commitment to showing how we have more in common. British Future worked with Jewish and Muslim youngsters on a series of ‘Love Actually/Great Together’ videos, which had fantastic online and media pick-up.

Imam Qari Asim wrote for the Telegraph on the terrorist attack on worshippers at the Finsbury Park Mosque


England’s Women’s football team reached the semi-finals of the European Championship, raising the audience and profile of women’s sport. British Future leads a campaign to fly the flag for the Lionesses which gains the support of MPs.

The National Conversation heard how the history of immigration had changed the debate in Wolverhampton and in Leicester , about the impact of students on Durham, and found contrasting attitudes among employers, civic society and citizens in Shrewsbury on the English-Welsh border.

Sunder Katwala gave oral evidence to the GLA’s EU exit working group public hearing on the challenges for EU nationals, and for integration in London after Brexit.


Ahead of the party conference season, British Future produced a major report on attitudes to immigration, reporting polling from after the 2017 General Election. The nuanced views of different types of immigration suggested strong potential for a consensus on how to manage migration after Brexit.  The report Time to Get It Right: finding consensus on Britain’s future immigration policy set out how the government and the new parliament could respond to the Brexit, immigration and integration choices ahead.

Home Affairs Committee Chair Yvette Cooper and Stoke-on-Trent MP Ruth Smeeth responded to the early findings of the National Conversation on Immigration, asking whether Labour could find common ground between its ‘two core votes‘. British Future’s Sunder Katwala set out, at the Conservative conference fringe, how the government could act to rebuild public confidence on immigration, in a fringe meeting with Craig Mackinlay MP and Open Europe’s Henry Newman.

A new British Future report revealed that the ‘ethnic vote gap‘ – with the Conservatives only half as likely to win non-white voters – had played a decisive role in costing Theresa May her majority in the knife-edge General Election, projecting that this had cost the Conservatives around 28 seats. Minister Sam Gymiah led a fringe meeting responding to the report at the party’s Manchester conference.

The National Conversation heard different issues about population – from concerns in Shetland about keeping young people on the islands to Redbridge‘s discussion of its long experience of migration and population pressures today. In Chesterfield, we heard how the employment practices of Sports Direct had made pressures on wages and working practices a more prominent issue than elsewhere. In Paisley, local faith and political leadership had shaped a different debate about migration, while participants in Middlesbrough talked about the town’s experience of hosting asylum seekers.


The government’s race disparity audit was a pioneering initiative, uncovering both ‘burning injustices’ and rising opportunities: a One Nation agenda needed to link race and class, argued Sunder Katwala.

At the National Archives in Kew, British Future brought together the descendants of British officers in the Indian Army with the British Muslim descendants of soldiers. Watch the video

Paddy Ashdown spoke about how he owed his life to his father’s service as an Indian Army officer at a Westminster event with the participants. Journalist David Rennie wrote for the Economist’s 1843 magazine about his experience of taking part and exploring family histories.

The National Conversation visits to Sutton Coldfield, Folkestone, Gloucester and Carlisle captured how different local contexts change the way people talk about immigration.Taking part in Bristol’s Festival of the Future City, the National Conversation heard concerns  too that the cosmopolitan perspective of Britain’s cities would get crowded out of the post-Brexit debate.

Sunder Katwala and Jill Rutter gave oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry on principles for an immigration consensus, summarising some of what the National Conversation on Immigration had heard to date


Continuing the theme of shared Remembrance, we launched a rap video in Bradford, as local rapper Blazer Boccle working with Bradford students as part of the ‘Unknown and Untold’ project on the history of the Muslim contribution to the first world war. Local MP Naz Shah spoke at a launch debate about why this shared history matters in Bradford and Britain today.

The engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would give Britain its first mixed race Royal. The changing Royal family reflected how much attitudes to mixed race relationships had changed in Harry’s lifetime, as Sunder Katwala set out in the Telegraph, drawing on British Future’s research into the relaxed attitudes of race among the ‘melting pot generation‘.

Donald Trump retweeted videos from Britain First, before challenging Prime Minister Theresa May’s criticism of his promotion of the extreme far right group. Sunder Katwala reflected on the breadth of the British consensus against Britain First – but saw Trump’s refusal to back down as undermining a key plank of anti-extremism strategy. The impact of Britain First also came up in the National Conversation visit to Kidderminster.

The National Conversation panel in Guildford were not persuaded that the Brexit debate would come down to a trade-off between migration and trade while in Dumfries, stakeholder concerns about population decline in Scotland had not reached the public yet. The public in diverse Hammersmith in inner London were no less likely than those outside the capital to feel that it was hard to get heard in Westminster


After much diplomatic drama over the Brexit bill and Ireland, the EU27 governments declared that ‘sufficient progress’ had been made in the first stage of the Brexit negotiations. Ahead of the summit, Sunder Katwala wrote a paper for the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, asking ‘What do the British want?‘ seeking to set out some of the key questions as the negotiations begin to address the long-term framework for Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

British Future’s research into Welsh attitudes to migration featured in BBC One Wales ‘The Hour’ debate on immigration from Newport, following our own National Conversation citizens’ panels in Merthyr Tydfil, Newport and Swansea.

Theresa May wrote to EU nationals in the UK, saying ‘I want you to stay’ and noting the deal between governments to secure the status of EU nationals in the UK and Britons living in the EU. British Future has joined a Home Office working group alongside other civic society organisations, engaging with the practical challenges of creating a fit for purpose system to enable Europeans to secure their status in the UK.

In 2018 …

British Future will continue to pursue our mission of building a more confident, inclusive and welcoming society, by engaging the public in debates about immigration and integration, identity and opportunity and seeking to strengthen the common ground.

In January, the interim report of the National Conversation on Immigration will reflect on the lessons of our first 30 visits around the United Kingdom. We will complete the 60 local events by the Spring, and publish a final report in the Autumn of 2018, as the post-Brexit immigration debate enters a crucial phase.

In April, the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech offers an opportunity to reflect on the last half century on race and immigration – and what we can learn for our contemporary challenges. We will be reflecting on the national picture and working with local voices to explore how Wolverhampton and the West Midlands have changed.

In November, the centenary of the 1918 Armistice offers an important national moment to reflect on our shared history – and to explore how the experience of the centenary can inform future efforts to foster contact, integration and a shared identity.