Turning Tides on Attitudes to Immigration – But Is It A Whitewash?

Is the British public becoming pro-immigration in light of COVID-19?

Recent statistics suggest the British public are becoming more pro-immigration than they have been in decades, a University of Exeter study has found. 

Statistics staff at the university conducted an analysis of public opinion regarding the usually divisive topic, concluding that approximately 60% of respondents would approve a less strict approach to immigration. 

Statistics lecturer at Exeter, Patrick English, compared British attitudes to immigration since the 1980s. 

pro-immigration butterfly
A homemade sign reads ‘immigration is beautiful’. [Image: Jim Wood/Barcroft Images/Telegraph.]

English said: “The Brexit vote came slap bang in the middle of a rapid decline in anti-immigrant sentiments from 2010 to 2017.” 

English stated that the rise of far-right political parties such as the British National Party (BNP), United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and anti-migrant rhetoric from previous Prime Minister David Cameron led to a “very public ‘battle’”, ramping up an aggressive divide between pro-immigration thought and anti-immigration. 

The study suggests that the coronavirus pandemic could be re-evaluating the British public’s attitude towards immigration

English labelled Brits’ attitude to immigration as a “thermostatic relationship”, in which if pushed in one direction, resistance is likely to be encountered. This could be seen in the Brexit referendum result as David Cameron and key leading politicians pushed for Remain yet the public voted to leave the EU. 

Data for the study was retrieved from the British Election Study, British Social Attitudes survey, European Social Survey, European Values Study and World Values Study. 

The study suggests that the coronavirus pandemic could be re-evaluating the British public’s attitude towards immigration.

Many Brits enjoy relative free rein when it comes to travel, yet are now experiencing first-hand what it is like to have freedom of movement denied to them. Immigrants working in the NHS or other key worker roles are being revered for their crucial contribution. The hostile environment has allegedly been suspended in a bid to convince migrants who can be afraid to come forward for essential health care. 

Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan, usually known for his more right-wing outbursts, has called for the country to have a new outlook on immigration. 

The Good Morning Britain host, Piers Morgan has emerged a rather unlikely ally in the midst of COVID-19. [Image: Hello Magazine.]

Morgan said: “At the end of this I hope we have a different sentiment, a different feeling about what immigration has done for this country.” 

Many Brits enjoy relative free rein when it comes to travel, yet are now experiencing first-hand what it is like to have freedom of movement denied to them

ImmiNews has recently reported that BAME health care staff have been particularly affected by COVID-19 in the UK. However, there are concerns that the new tide of warmth towards migrants always has, and always will, see white immigrants as more desirable than BAME immigrants

Data appears to point to suggest that the UK is becoming pro-immigration in light of the COVID crisis. [Image: Drapers Online.]

In America, arguably the UK’s closest ally, President Trump allegedly bemoaned migrants coming to America from “sh*thole countries” in 2018. Trump was referring to Haitian and African migrants looking to relocate to the United States, going on to speculate his administration would never welcome Norwegian immigrants – the implication being that many Norwegians are Caucasian and wealthy.

Perhaps, with renewed empathy for what it’s like to be denied the chance to experience different cultures; to not have the option to live and work abroad, there will be lasting changes to attitudes when it comes to immigration post-COVID-19. As politicians’ rhetoric and some of the mainstream press beginning to adjust their narratives, it is yet to be seen if the UK’s potential pro-immigration status is permanent.