22 June 2017

Most Conservative voters want net migration target replaced – poll

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71% of Conservative voters think the Government should drop the net migration target and replace it with separate targets for different types of immigration, like skilled and low-skilled workers, according to a new ICM poll for British Future. Just 6% of Conservatives disagree.

Among the public as a whole, nearly two-thirds (63%) think the target should be replaced, with 7% disagreeing. Support for the proposal was strongest among the over-65s – the demographic that has shown the greatest support for the Conservative Party – with three-quarters (75%) supporting separate targets for different types of immigration.

Only 12% of the public – and just 14% of Conservative voters – think that the Government will meet its net migration target in the next five years, while two-thirds of the public (66%) and 62% of Conservatives believe it won’t be met.

Business leaders from the Institute of Directors and British Chambers of Commerce emphasized the need for Government now to rethink and conduct a comprehensive review of immigration policy, putting further pressure on the Prime Minister to replace the unpopular target, which has not been met in the seven years since it was announced by former Prime Minister David Cameron.

Seamus Nevin, Head of Employment and Skills Policy for The Institute of Directors, said:

“It’s clear the net migration target isn’t working. This poll shows only 12% of the public think that the Government will meet the target in the next five years, while the majority of the Conservative’s own voters think the target should be replaced. Voters are concerned about governments not being in control of the immigration system, but setting a crude number target, without putting policies in place to help reduce the need to bring in people from overseas has only undermined people’s trust in politicians ability to assert control.

“Last week’s election result offers an opportunity for the government to review its policy on immigration, conduct a Comprehensive Immigration Review, and do a root-and-branch review of our education system to put the reforms in place to deliver more of the skills needed from a home-grown pool.”


Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

“Businesses need an immigration system that is responsive to economic need and skills shortages at all levels, not an arbitrary numerical migration target. 

“Companies across the UK already report significant skills shortages. The government must recognise that flexibility is required, given that many parts of the UK are close to full employment, with an ageing labour force in many industries. It’s important to remember that most businesses facing labour shortages only look to hire from overseas after exhausting all options to recruit and train staff closer to home. 

“An independent body, such as the Migration Advisory Committee, should undertake a comprehensive review of the UK’s skills needs and shortages to help inform the shape of our future migration system.”


Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said:

“Most of the public and the government’s own supporters don’t like the net migration target, don’t think it will be met and would prefer it to be ditched in favour of something more sensible. Most of the cabinet would agree with that assessment too.

“Lumping all forms of immigration together, subtracting emigration and plucking a target out of the air for a target has only served to undermine people’s trust in the Government to get a grip.

“Brexit is a reset moment for immigration and this election is a reset moment for the Conservative Party. It’s time to move on from the net migration target to something that actually works and makes sense.

“Targets can play an important role and they needn’t be dropped altogether. But looking at different types of immigration separately – skilled, low-skilled and students, for example – makes sense to the public. The Government should listen.”


Ryan Shorthouse, director of liberal conservative think tank Bright Blue, said:

“Dropping the net migration target should be a priority. Having net migration of below 100,000 a year would be a sign of failure, not success, for this country. Controlling migration need not and should not be centred on an arbitrary, indiscriminate and unrealistic target. 

“Brexit provides a good opportunity for the Government to introduce realistic, effective and popular ways of controlling migration. The Government should introduce new targets  – both on gross numbers and the effectiveness of the visa process – for different categories of migrants, after extensive consultation led by the Migration Advisory Committee.”

In its recently-published Immigration Manifesto British Future proposes that the Government moves away from a one-size-fits-all target and instead considers setting targets for specific types of immigration that the Government wishes to reduce and which is in its power to do so. That should also take into account what the public consider to be ‘immigration’ – research has found, for instance, that most people do not think of international students as ‘migrants’ at all and would welcome their numbers to increase or remain at current levels. British Future also proposes that the Government takes a broader view of immigration policy reform through a Comprehensive Immigration Review.

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