Immigration: an opportunity to lead

Some British politicians are in danger of misjudging public opinion on immigration. Not only the UK’s immigration policy, but also its wider political future, could be at stake.

UK public attitudes towards immigration have long been regarded as restrictionist. Indeed, a perceived public demand to better control immigration has been a central premise of political debate about migration (and the European Union) for some time. Yet even before the recent Windrush episode, there was significant evidence to suggest that UK public attitudes towards immigration are much more nuanced than is commonly appreciated.

That is not to minimise the concern and confusion that immigration causes in the mind of the UK public, and the impact that undoubtedly had on the outcome of the EU referendum vote. But to say that the data points to some fluidity of opinion, to opportunities for politicians to listen, to engage, but also to inform and to lead. And while one should be wary of overstating this, the events of the past few months have arguably born out the fact that sentiment on immigration can shift, and be shifted.

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