It was never on the posters, nor on the buses. Vote Leave’s slogan “Take back control” was not a rallying cry. Nigel Farage’s ‘BREAKING POINT’ van hoarding, echoing Nazi propaganda with its image of migrants queuing, screamed just the opposite.
Yet, quietly, Brexit Britain has become a country of high immigration. There are now more migrants arriving in the UK than before the EU referendum in 2016. With the end of the free movement of EU citizens, the share of non-EU migration to the UK United rose.
Graphic of Nicu Calcea
The ministers adopt it. Health Secretary Steve Barclay is leading a major campaign to recruit foreign nurses and also wants to invite more foreign social workers.
In fact, 75,963 healthcare work visas were granted in the 12 months to March 2022, up from 14,016 the previous year. Despite its tough rhetoric on restricting immigration, the government added all manner of health and care jobs to its ‘shortage occupations list’ in March 2021, meaning visa rules more flexible for foreign workers in these sectors. It’s not hard to see why, given that the number of vacancies in the UK has exceeded the number of available workers for the first time.
Yet there is also a lesson here about British public attitudes. People are much more supportive of immigration than before the 2016 EU referendum: they are now more likely to view its contribution as positive (46%) than negative (28%). This is a reversal in sentiment measured in 2015 by the same poll tracker for UK think tank Future.
The public is twice as likely to prioritize “control” over reducing the number of immigrants. This stance undermines the Conservative Party’s net migration target of less than 100,000, introduced by David Cameron in 2010 and eventually abandoned by Boris Johnson three years ago.
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Interestingly, this sentiment prevails even among those who voted to leave in 2016, and did so immediately after the referendum as well: 82% of leavers were happy that highly skilled migration from the EU hold at current levels or increase, according to a 2017 report from British Future.
When talking to pollsters, ‘screened’ and ‘qualified’ seem to be the golden words that bring Brits on board with immigration.
The government has realized this. To follow the ‘skilled’ rule, the government is simply disguising its recruitment of lower-paid foreign workers (like the EU carers and lorry drivers we were all used to before Brexit) by listing them as jobs in shortage whenever he needs it. . This is a good thing for the liberalization of the immigration system.
Yet, to follow the “controlled” rule, his tactics are darker. Images of migrants arriving on small boats over the English Channel undermine the image of ‘control’ – so ministers cook up cruel and unnecessary policies like the Rwanda deportation deal. Another consequence of a system stacked against desperate newcomers is poor refugee response. Two-year-old children fleeing Ukraine have been forced to wait and take biometric visa tests. Afghans who helped the British government were left behind by the Taliban, fearing for their lives.
Our Brexiteer overlords can now rely on immigration, but they remain hostile towards the most vulnerable arrivals on our shores.
[See also: Keir Starmer is letting a crisis go to waste]