25 August 2016

What next after Brexit? Immigration & integration in post-referendum Britain

View all news

Only about a third of the public think the Government will meet its net migration target in the next 5 years, even after Brexit, according to polling for a new British Future report, What next after Brexit? Immigration and integration in post-referendum Britain.

Together with repeated polls showing immigration ranking alongside the economy and the NHS as the issues that they care most about, it’s an indicator of just how low public trust has fallen in governments’ competence to manage immigration.

It would be wrong, however, to confuse mistrust in the system and concerns about the pressures brought by high migration with a determination to reduce all immigration at all costs. Ask the public what they think about different types of immigration, as ICM has done for this report, and one finds that most people have balanced, moderate views – a preference for cuts to some flows of immigration and increases in others:

Consulting the public should form part of a comprehensive immigration review that takes a 360-degree look at all aspects of immigration policy – different types of immigration, policy options and their impacts, the staffing needs of business and public services and the pressures that rapid population change can place on local communities. More effective measures are needed to ease some of those pressures – on housing, school places and health services – through a migration impacts fund that is well-resourced and is seen to make a difference to frontline services in the areas that need some help.

Immigration reform must start to restore public trust. Instead of promises that can’t be kept or reactive crackdowns, it should engage with public concerns and respond with sensible, evidence-based policies that balance control and efforts to manage pressures, with openness to the immigration that is good for our economy and society.

It should also look at the resources needed to manage immigration well. The process of Brexit – for example sorting-out the status of more than 3 million EU nationals living in the UK – will place increased demands on the resources of the Home Office. This will mean more work for a department that has already been subject to cuts and is committed to make borders and immigration self-funding. We recommend that central government instead invests in a system that is fit for purpose, given the increased strain that Brexit will place up on it. For an issue of such high public salience, and one where confidence in the system is so low, it is hard to see the taxpayer taking significant issue with an increase to the £28 per head we spend each year on border control, if the extra funding would deliver a system in which they could have confidence.

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union will have a significant impact on our approach to immigration. The kind of Brexit we get will have a decisive influence on what any new immigration policy will look like. But as well as bringing challenges, the Brexit shake-up could be an opportunity to get immigration policy right – to restore trust in a system that works, and public consent for the immigration that we have.

Download What next after Brexit? Immigration and integration in post-referendum Britain here.

British Future’s latest activity on Twitter