British public are ‘pragmatic’ about immigration after Brexit, experts say

Concerns remain as the UK government struggles to come up with a suitable deal

A Brexit supporter. Erik S Lesser / EPA
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The British public have a “nuanced and quite pragmatic” approach to immigration after Brexit, experts have said as the UK government struggles to negotiate a suitable deal on leaving the European Union.

At a home affairs select committee hearing on Tuesday, Phoebe Griffith, Associate Director at the Progressive Policy Think Tank, said new research has shown while “1 in 10 people expect to regain full control of our borders” the majority of the “public appetite lies within compromise rather than all or nothing”.

Research from London-based think tank British Future found in 2017 that when asked about different flows of immigration,  47% of over 3600 people surveyed preferred a “compromise that balances the economy and immigration control”.

Experts at the hearing disputed a common perception that immigration is damaging to essential services in the UK, such as the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), and education.

“It is not the case that higher immigration is associated with greater NHS waiting times locally. If you look at schools, the number of pupils with English as a second language is not negatively correlated with the performance of English-speaking pupils," said Professor Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King’s College, London.

He added that there is even “some evidence that there is a positive impact [of Eastern European pupils] on the performance of English-speaking pupils”.


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Professor Portes also warned the government against placing caps on the number of skilled EU workers in British businesses. UK prime minister Theresa May placed a cap on non-EU skilled workers in 2011 when she was home secretary and talks of such a system being implemented on EU migrants after Brexit have taken place.

"Ending free movement and entering a system where we use a non-EU system for EU migrants will cause problems,” he said. "The higher education system is very dependent on EU nationals, not just professors but the researchers hired by them.”

Stephen Clarke, Senior Economic Analyst at British think tank Resolution Foundation, said reaching a deal on Brexit must be about “doing it well rather than doing it quickly”, particularly how the UK government will manage the trade off between immigration and access to trade.

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