The 360: Who can voters trust to get it right on immigration?

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

Immigration has long been a contentious issue for voters. (Getty)

What’s happening?

Immigration has been one of the most important issues for British voters for a number of years, and arguments about its benefits and drawbacks featured heavily in the Brexit debate.

A poll conducted by Ipsos Mori the week before the Brexit vote found that immigration was the top issue for voters in the EU referendum.

Critics say high levels of immigration puts strain on public services, and warn migrants may fail to integrate into new communities.

Pro-immigration arguments point to the contribution made by migrants to the economy and workforce. In the UK, the NHS in particular relies on non-British born staff.

Since the EU referendum, polls show that the issue of immigration has dropped to the tenth most important issue facing British people. But the debate over immigration between the two main parties continues to rage in the run-up to the December general election.

Why there’s debate

Controlling immigration became a focus for pro-Brexit campaigners prior to the referendum and the issue was considered as a key motivation for those voting to leave the EU - but it appears attitudes have softened slightly since then which is reflected in the party’s manifestos.

As a result, although the Labour Party voted to extend freedom of movement at their party conference, no commitment to do so made it into their election manifesto. Instead, the party “recognises the benefits of immigration” without actually giving a specific policy.

Despite this, many voters who support stricter controls on immigration remain wary of Labour after the party oversaw high levels of workers from the EU coming to Britain during the Tony Blair years.

The Conservatives want to introduce an ‘Australian-style’ points based system for immigration. Boris Johnson has previously spoken out in favour of an immigrant amnesty but critics say he will play up to more hardline, populist views to secure extra votes during the election campaign.

However, he has pledged to make it quicker and easier for the “brightest and the best” to live and work in the UK after Brexit.

The Tories have pledged to overhaul the UK’s immigration system, pledging to cut “immigration overall” and reduce “lower-skilled” migration.

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has said she will champion immigration but opponents say the party’s track record - voting with the Tories on harsh immigration measures during the coalition years - should not be forgotten.

What’s next?

The Brexit Party was only founded in January this year and remains a wildcard in the election.

And though the other parties have placed immigration lower down their agendas, Nigel Farage is attempting to place the issue front and centre in the election by attacking Labour’s “great betrayal” in an attempt to win over disaffected Labour Leave voters - particularly in the hotly contested seats in towns in the Midlands and north of England.

Whether that strategy works remains to be seen.

Perspectives

Boris Johnson is pandering to populist views to win votes

“Whatever happens with Brexit over the next two months, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s past support for immigration will be put to the test. So far, he appears to be succumbing to short-term political pressure to curb immigration at the expense of policies that would serve Britain’s long-term interests. The result is millions of anxious EU citizens living in the U.K. wondering if they should pack their bags.” - Therese Raphael, Bloomberg

The PM knows the UK must open its arms to migrants

“Since the Brexit vote, there has been a substantial shift in public opinion, which is far more positive about immigration than three years ago. As London mayor until 2016, Johnson was well aware of how much damage Theresa May’s restrictionist policies did both to key growth sectors in the UK economy and our broader international image, especially in fast-growing economies such as India. But as long as she was prime minister it was difficult to shift policy in a more liberal direction.” - Jonathan Portes, The Guardian

Labour must tell a different story of immigration

“Labour does not need to invent a pro-immigration argument – it just needs to own the one that already exists. To build public trust in our immigration and asylum system while delivering fairness, we suggest three priorities now: policies to promote integration, policies that help enrich our country, and policies that have justice and wellbeing at their heart.” - Kate Green and Mike Buckley, Labour List

Labour conference did not vote to scrap all immigration controls.

“Non-EU citizens are subject to more controls and enforcement, some of which the conference motion wants to relax, but it’s far from clear at this stage how far the party would want those changes to go. The motion doesn’t rule out all possible controls on migration—only certain types of immigration system. It’s also important to note that a motion passing conference is a fairly early stage of the policy development cycle. The motion will now be fleshed out by the party.” - Full Fact

Lib Dems must take on those who demonise immigrants.

“Scrapping the net migration target and the hostile environment. Ending indefinite detention and closing eight detention centres. Abolishing the income test for spouses and partners. Enabling refugees and asylum seekers to work while their cases are decided. These are all important, compassionate policies that I look forward to championing on behalf of our party. If we are to actually get these changes into law, however, we must take on and defeat those who demonise immigrants and stoke resentment.” - Jo Swinson, Lib Dem Voice

Tories must become proud champions of immigration

“There is electoral capital to be seized by embracing immigration, especially by deepening ties between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. CANZUK International’s polling of 13,600 people across all four countries found that support for freedom of movement between these nations stood at 68 per cent in the UK, 76 per cent in Canada, 73 per cent in Australia, and 82 per cent in New Zealand. Such popularity for a single policy represents a door that Boris Johnson would be mad not to bang open.” Jack Powell, City AM

Labour’s leadership have always been pro-immigration

“Whatever happens, the left must renew its defence of migrants. Corbyn, like the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, is a veteran of anti-deportation campaigns and began his leadership at a pro-refugee rally, while his key ally Diane Abbott is passionately pro-immigration.” - Owen Jones, The Guardian

Mr Johnson’s stance should reflect shifting public opinion on immigration

“Opinion polls show concern about migration has dropped sharply since the referendum result: by some measures, Britain is now the most welcoming country in Europe. The issue was about control, not immigrant numbers. We now see the chance for a new, more liberal consensus that Johnson is ideally placed to create.” - Fraser Nelson, The Spectator

Labour would change migration rules in a new Brexit deal

“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle. But nor can we afford to lose full access to the European markets on which so many British businesses and jobs depend. Changes to the way migration rules operate from the EU will be part of the negotiations. Labour supports fair rules and reasonably managed migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU.” - Jeremy Corbyn

Tories want an Australian-based points system

“I am clear that our immigration system must change. For years, politicians have promised the public an Australian-style points-based system... I will ask the migration advisory committee to conduct a review of that system as the first step in a radical rewriting of our immigration system.” - Boris Johnson

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