In this paper – the first part of Open Europe’s Immigration Project – we set out to examine what the public really thinks about migration. Since the Leave vote in last year’s referendum, commentators and politicians have wrongly interpreted Brexit as a mandate simply to pull up the drawbridge. We found that people’s attitudes on immigration are far more nuanced and sophisticated than often is portrayed in political or media debate. In actual fact, the public support migration for specific jobs or of those who have key skills. And, contrary to what some have suggested, our evidence demonstrates that overall public attitudes towards immigration – and indeed Brexit – were not fuelled by racism or intolerance.
Open Europe combined a 4,000 person ICM poll across Great Britain with a series of focus groups in England conducted by Public First in the North East, North West, East Midlands, and West Midlands. Our results showed that the public want to see immigration controlled but that most people recognised both positive as well as negative aspects of immigration. The public also understood that migration both alleviates certain public policy issues and exacerbates them, and articulated that public policy issues have broader causes than just immigration.