Britons 'increasingly relaxed about immigration'

Most of the UK seeks 'balance' on immigration, as a new study shows that views have softened post-Brexit.

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Attitudes among Britons towards immigration have become markedly more relaxed since the Brexit referendum and the subject is no longer a “top of the mind” issue, according to new research.At the time of the 2016 referendum, immigration was recorded as the number one concern among voters. Now, however, a poll conducted by ICM for the British Future think-tank has found that it ranks only ninth most important.The report on the findings, compiled by British Future in conjunction with the Policy Institute at King's College London, indicated that most Britons now take a balanced view on immigration, with a desire for controls over immigration but also an awareness of the benefits it can bring.More than three-quarters of respondents said they would be happy for the numbers of high-skilled workers from the EU (79% or outside the EU (77%) to remain the same or increase, although just over half said they wanted to see a reduction in lower-skilled migration from the EU.Additionally, some 64% were in favour of the number of international students coming to the UK either remaining the same or increasing.

Most of the UK seeks "balance" on immigration

The survey found that the main concern among voters was the future of the National Health Service, followed by the fallout of Brexit, the economy and taxation, and crime.Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said the poll showed Prime Minister Boris Johnson could take a "pragmatic" approach to immigration after ditching the failed net migration targets championed by his predecessors."Boris Johnson has an opportunity now to bring more light and less heat to the immigration debate - because of how attitudes have changed since the 2016 referendum," he said. "With the debate now more open, people can't really claim they're not allowed to talk about immigration. The question is what choices we should make."This research confirms that most people are 'balancers' on immigration, wanting to manage the pressures better and to keep the gains too."Without the millstone of the net migration target around his neck, the prime minister can make his case that taking back control should mean Britain welcoming the migration we decide to keep."
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Prof Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King's College and co-author of the study, said, "It's often imagined that the public can be divided into groups that are either utterly in favour of immigration or dead set against it."This study shows that most are in the middle, with views that depend on the type of immigration you are talking about."Those views have also shifted over recent years, with a particular drop in how immigration ranks in peoples' minds. This provides a great moment to reset our approach."

Immigration: More than 1/2 call for flexibility to allow nurses and care workers to come to the UK

The survey showed general approval of the post-Brexit, points-based immigration system unveiled by the government last month although 63%  of respondents called for more flexibility to allow nurses and care workers to come to the UK.Dr Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society think-tank, said the report showed there was room for a more nuanced debate around immigration."This study provides the government with an opportunity to ‘take back control’ of the immigration agenda from the draconian position of ‘they shall not enter’ to a more nuanced one which recognises that Britons see the benefits of some immigration, even of the low paid variety," he said.“The government can now adopt a controlled strategy which gives the UK the freedom to import in both the formally skilled and core labour shortage areas of the economy.”Visit the British Future website to download the report.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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