Winning the Immigration Vote: how immigration could feature in the next UK election

With a general election expected this year, immigration is bound to be a theme that all political parties use to signal to key voter demographics.

Where are voters on ‘immigration’?

Currently, according to YouGov, the Conservatives are only the most popularly party among the over-70s. The majority of Britons under-50 say will vote for Labour.

The UK’s last election was in 2019. At that time, YouGov polls suggested that 22% of voters considered immigration as the most important factor facing the country. This has now risen to 39% with only healthcare and the economy ranking higher. Immigration is currently considered a more important issue facing the UK than education, housing, the environment and family life and childcare.

38% of those polled by YouGov consider the level of immigration in the UK to have been mostly bad for the country. Only 21% of respondents expressed a positive opinion towards immigration during the last ten years of a Conservative government. 65% of respondents believe that immigration has been too high in the last ten years.

Given the above numbers, it isn’t surprising that 82% of the UK consider the current government to be badly handling the issue of immigration in the UK. 20% of the country now believe that Labour would be the best political party to handle asylum and immigration. This is only 3% up from before the 2019 election, but critically the number of people with faith in the Conservatives on immigration has halved from 32% to 16%.

It appears that immigration is a very significant issue for voters in the UK, who believe that immigration levels have been too high in the past ten years and that the Conservatives have failed to impact it. In terms of what factors in particular Britons consider important for immigration, the latest YouGov trackers suggest that:

  • The current levels of people with low levels of education and skills looking for low paid work in the UK are at the right level.
  • The current levels of wealthy people looking to live in the UK based on investing in the UK are at the right level.
  • We should allow more people to come to the UK to work in the British health service.
  • The current levels of people coming to the UK to study are at the right level.
  • The current levels of skilled workers coming to the UK to look for skilled jobs are at the right level.

In fact, in most areas of immigration, respondents to various YouGov polls suggest that immigration is a significant national issue whilst simultaneously being at the right level for each of its component parts.

Immigration in general is seen as too high, but each separate area of work or study related immigration is at the right level.

The Channel wall

It’s probably no surprise then that Labour and Conservatives are focusing their messaging on Channel crossings. Border integrity has proven a highly emotive subject for voters globally, whether it be building a wall, ending “free” movement or preventing islands being reached by boat. Crossing the Channel to reach the UK is symbolic of unrestricted immigration and triggers those who want to feel safe that the identity of Great Britain is secure.

Since only 1.3% of those arriving by small boats were removed from the UK between 2018 and 2023, it would appear that most people arriving by boat to the UK make a valid claim to remain in the UK as refugees. They have a case for remaining, but they are illegally entering. Since there is no way to legally enter the UK to make a claim for asylum and airlines are bound by law to check for a right to enter the UK, it would appear that the Channel crossers are extremely short of options.

It is positive that neither party demonises the individuals making the journey and the language is changing to focus on the criminal gangs making a trade from the trafficking of people. The Labour party are proposing a deal whereby the EU provides support with preventing Channel crossings in exchange for accepting a share of refugees arriving to the EU. The Conservatives have just agreed a deal with the EU to co-operate closer on information to prevent Channel crossings.

The impact of the many other elections taking place this year may also impact on anti-migration in the UK election too, since most recent elections in Europe have seen rises in more nationalist parties. The fact that the UK has already had Brexit might impact any such influence, however. The UK has already “taken back control of its borders” in that respect.

 Making work immigration work

Little is known on either the Conservatives or Labour Party’s policies on work-related immigration. James Cleverly looks to be taking actions to reduce visas that allow an unlimited work right, such as care worker and student dependants, UK spouses and Graduate visa holders. The focus appears to be in restricting low-skilled workers from overseas into the domestic labour market, despite YouGov respondents voting that the current levels are at the right level.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper is already reminding the Conservatives of the trebling of net migration and looks to be focusing on less reliance for overseas workers for shortage occupations and an increase in training and upskilling the domestic labour market. The current government imposes charges of £1000 per year to sponsor a worker from overseas as an incentive to invest more in training, and so perhaps a Labour government will replace the Immigration Skills Charge with a requirement for sponsors to provide evidence of a sufficient level of internal training programmes.

Out of the shadow cabinet

With a likely Labour election victory and Yvette Cooper as Home Secretary, what would we expect in terms of immigration policy?

Cooper was chair of Labour’s refugee taskforce and has been Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee since 2016, interviewing dozens of professionals on immigration during that time. She has always voted against stronger laws and enforcement of immigration rules and generally voted against a stricter asylum system. Cooper generally voted for continuing close ties with Europe during Brexit. We could expect a very different Home Secretary to the pro-Rwanda plan, pro-Brexit Cleverly.


This article was written by Oliver O’Sullivan, Head of Immigration at Wellers Law Group. You get get in touch with Oliver by email for enquiries relating to the contents of this article.