UK General Election: Do UKIP losses show a swing away from anti-immigrant views?

Thursday’s truly astonishing British general election result has left the media with plenty of straws to grasp at. As we now know, the Conservatives missed the threshold for a majority (326 seats) after calling for a snap election with the hopes of a windfall to consolidate their authority in time for Brexit talks. In the meantime, Labour, led by the embattled Jeremy Corbyn, gained over 30 seats but did not manage to secure a majority. UKIP failed to gain any seats, and the Irish DUP arrived in the dubious position of kingmaker for the Conservatives by virtue of their ten seats.

The success of Labour and surprising turnaround of the Conservatives and UKIP have many people asking:

Was this result a rebuke to parties who take a strong stance against immigration?

In our view, not necessarily.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP), who has previously made a name for itself with strong opposition to immigration and the European Union, did extremely poorly in many of the districts where they had previously performed well, seeming to split their lost votes among Labour and Conservative candidates. For example, the chart below, based on official statistics reported by the BBC and the Guardian, shows how much UKIP lost in comparison to 2015 in the five districts that had the highest percentage of people voting to leave the EU.

Sample UKIP Losses in Leave Districts

In all of these districts, Conservatives won the most votes and the seat in parliament. However, Labour had strong gains in each, performing on average an additional 8% better than in 2015. Conservatives also did better, by an average of 12%. Considering UKIP lost an average of 20% in these districts, these numbers would appear to show people who formerly supported UKIP dividing their votes among Labour and Conservatives, favoring Conservatives, but not by much.

If voters had abandoned UKIP because they had changed their mind about Brexit, we would have expected to see surges in the parties promising to fight Brexit, particularly the Greens and the LibDems. This was not the case.

A possible interpretation is that UKIP, as a protest party standing strongly for Brexit, lost its appeal once Brexit was achieved. However, if the reasoning for wanting Brexit in the first place primarily lay with opposition to immigration, it would have been reasonable to expect the Conservatives, who took the harshest stance against immigration, sweeping up all or most of the UKIP votes so that the government could finish the job and make lasting changes to the immigration yste. Instead, a good chunk went to Labour as well- who were tepid on the subject of immigration reform, promising “fair rules and reasonable management of migration.”

We previously compared the Labour and Conservative positions on immigration as laid out in their manifestos and concluded that they could not be more different. While Conservatives promise to bring the number of people migrating to the UK from over 300,000 to in the tens of thousands, Labour does not have specific numeric targets for reduction. Conservatives would make it more difficult for family members to reunify, while Labour would make it easier (at first glance) by removing earnings requirements. Labour would ban indefinite detention, while Conservatives would change asylum rules to disfavor those who apply in-country. In addition, the parties differ significantly on international students and charges for employers who hire non-British workers.

The only place they come together in agreement over Brexit: it’s happening, and it’s going to change immigration from the EU and beyond.

So what conclusions can we draw from this baffling situation? There are a few possibilities.

Bored of Brexit

First, perhaps this outcome showed that while many people did want a change on immigration, they felt that change was already achieved by the vote to leave the European Union. If this were the case, it would be natural to turn their attention to other, more domestic priorities, such as employment, social services, health and education. These are areas that Labour spent a lot of time campaigning on, and perhaps this effort accounted for some of their success.

Not Convinced by the Conservatives

The promise to reduce numbers of people migrating to Britain is not a new one. David Cameron pledged to cap immigration in the tens of thousands back in 2010 and obviously did not, which may cast doubt for some on Theresa May’s pledge to do the same in 2017. Public opinion surveys, like one done by Ipsos, show that only 18% of British people think the goal of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands of achievable by the Conservatives, while 68% say its “either not at all likely or fairly unlikely that the Conservatives will be able to achieve this target”.

This would indicate not that people have changed their views on immigration, but that they are unconvinced that Conservatives can carry out their promises on reducing net numbers. By extension, the same applies to UKIP, who promised to reduce net migration to zero.

Cold Feet for Hard Brexit

A final possibility to consider is that the people who switched their votes were satisfied with the decision to leave the EU, but turned off by the hard-line approach favored by UKIP and the Conservatives. In terms of immigration, this could mean a desire for a measured approach to a changed system under Brexit rather than reduction by several hundred thousand or “net zero”. One of the difficulties of the hard-line approach favored by UKIP and the Tories is that people tend to differentiate between different kinds of immigrants- for instance, international students, doctors, and people rejoining their families, versus people seeking asylum or irregular migrants. An approach that puts all of these individuals in the same basket risks forcing people to prioritize efforts to reduce immigration over, for instance, having adequate doctors and nurses to staff the NHS. Perhaps some voters felt that Labour struck the better balance between leaving the EU while not totally changing the character of the country by advocating radical changes to the immigration system.

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Of course, it’s possible that none of these possibilities encapsulate what voters were thinking when many abandoned UKIP and to a lesser extent Conservatives. (Perhaps UKIP voters simply abstained en masse!) The coming weeks may give us more opportunity to find out, as the fallout from the election impacts the Conservatives and their attempts to get Brexit negotiations underway with an almost hung parliament. For now, we assess that slashing numbers arbitrarily and not taking account of the migration needs of different industries and sectors is no longer a winning proposition. Judging from reports that May has promised to back away from some of her key immigration positions, the Tories would seem to agree.


Sources and Further Reading
Two of UK’s Top Leave Districts in Essex, BBC, June 2016
UK Election 2017: Full Results (Interactive), June 2017
Comparing the Conservative and Labour Manifestos on Immigration , MV
UK Parties Clash Over International Students, MV
What is the Tories’ Immigration Skills Charge and how will it impact the NHS?, MV
Most think Theresa May will not achieve her target to cut net migration to the “tens of thousands”, IPSOS Mori, May 2017
Theresa May buys time with apology to Tory MPs over election ‘mess’, The Guardian, June 2017
Header Image: UKIP Billboard, via Ian Burt on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2rl1aNj (CC by 2.0)

 

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Dominated by Brexit? A closer look at Liberal Democrats, Greens, UKIP and SNP manifestos on migration

In our previous article, we examined the Labour party and Conservative party manifestos for the quickly approaching UK General Election. Today we’ll take a closer look at the Liberal Democrats, Green Party, UK Independence Party (UKIP), and Scottish National Party (SNP), who altogether make up a share of about 16%, together with others, according to recent polling by IPSOS Mori.

vi-political-monitor-may-2017

Liberal Democrats- Supporting Immigration while Opposing Brexit

In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrat party is positioning itself as true opposition to both Labour and Conservatives, highlighting their steadfast opposition to Brexit.

On the biggest question facing all of us, Brexit, which has such huge implications for our young people and our future, Corbyn ordered his MPs to stand down against Theresa May’s government. Where the Liberal Democrats are fighting every step of the way, Labour is holding Theresa May’s hand as she jumps off the cliff edge of a hard Brexit.

The Liberal Democrats say they are offering up a strong opposition that counters the pro-Brexit or Brexit acceptance of the two largest parties. So what would this opposition look like for immigration?

Brexit: In policies that highlight their opposition to Brexit, Liberal Democrats propose protections for citizens of EU countries and British people living in EU countries. They would guarantee the rights of people from the EU currently living in the UK and streamline these people’s ability to register, receive permanent residence and/or apply for citizenship. They oppose abandoning the principle of free movement in either direction, and want British citizens to retain benefits of travel and international study in programs like Erasmus. They would ensure respect for international students and guarantee the rights of people from abroad working for the NHS or Social Care (but they are vague as to how.) In short, the Liberal Democratic approach is to try to ensure that individuals currently in Britain as migrants don’t lose their jobs or ability to stay as a result of Brexit.

Immigration: “Immigration is essential to our economy” according to Liberal Democrats, and their approach to newcomers (not those already present in the UK) is based for the most part on economic impact. They would consult with parliament in a yearly debate to determine which areas of the market need skilled people from other countries, and they would continue to allow visas for high-skilled job-seekers as well as family reunification visas. International students would not be counted in immigration statistics, and students studying STEM areas would be able to stay and additional period if they find employment within 6 months. Finally, a “Migration Impact Fund” would be available to communities “adjust” to pressures associated with migration.

libdems

Asylum: On asylum, Liberal Democrats differ greatly from the other parties. They would end indefinite detention by applying a 28-day limit to the time period where people seeking asylum can be detained, and attempt to offer safe routes to the UK by, for example, reforming family reunification rules to make it easier for people to join their families without risking dangerous routes. Additionally, they would expand acceptance of people fleeing Syria to 50,000 in the next five years under Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and accept 3,000 children who are unaccompanied, offering them leave to remain indefinitely in Britain.

Green Party – Reject Brexit

Like the Lib Dems, the Green party is openly opposed to Brexit and uses terms to like “big”, “bold” and “brave” to describe their vision for the future. They want citizens to be able to vote for an option to remain in the EU, and place environmental concerns like climate change front and center. Immigration is not a focal point of their comparatively brief manifesto, but there are several points which show them generally in favor of immigration.

Brexit: The Green party wants an option for Britons to reject the Brexit deal and remain in the EU after all, through a referendum to be held following negotiations. Failing that, they want to retain freedom of movement from both directions and remain in the common market. They call to “immediately guarantee the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK and urgently seek reciprocal arrangements for UK citizens in the EU.” They would also seek to guarantee rights for British citizens to work and study in the EU, including taking part in the Erasmus program.

Immigration and Asylum: The Green Party guarantee on this topic is short and vague: “A humane immigration and asylum system that recognises and takes responsibility for Britain’s ongoing role in causing the flow of migrants worldwide.”

UK Independence Party (UKIP) – Net Immigration at Zero

Britain’s UKIP party sees itself as radical, agenda-setting outsiders, as party leader Paul Nutall states in the party’s manifesto.

When we first said that Britain could not only survive but prosper outside the European Union, the political class laughed at us. When we spoke of the need for a points based system for migrants we were derided as racists and xenophobes by the same people. … Be it our stance on balanced migration, constitutional reform or integration, I predict we are leading where the other parties will eventually follow.

But a risk of setting the course is that bigger parties hijack and co-opt your ideas. With Britain’s largest party, the Conservatives, endorsing Brexit and taking a hard-line stance to reduce immigration, can UKIP offer something new?

Brexit: UKIP stands for the hardest of hard Brexits, rejecting Article 50 as a trap by Brussels, and setting out a list of “tests” that can be used to evaluate whether the extraction from the EU has been thorough enough. One of these is the rejection of all forms of free movement.

UKIP

Nevertheless, in their section “Defending our National Health Service”, UKIP promises to guarantee the right to remain for health care workers from EU countries, regardless of what happens to British citizens in EU countries.

Immigration and Asylum: UKIP seeks to differentiate themselves from both the Labour and Conservative parties on their immigration plan, promising to ease public fears while still welcoming “the best and brightest from around the word” to Britain.

UKIP would reduce net migration to zero over five years (meaning that the number of people coming and leaving would be balanced, which would require dramatic reductions to incomers or larger numbers of people leaving.) They would achieve this by emulating the Australian immigration system, which awards points to people wishing to immigrate based on various pre-selected indicators and requires a certain number of points to obtain a visa. (You can read an example of points calculations here.) Unlike Australia’s system, however, UKIP would add an additional integration requirement to “test the social attitudes of migration applicants to foster community cohesion and protect core British values.” What this would entail is uncertain, although they mention attitudes towards women and gay people as possible indicators.

The party would not seek changes to Student visas or earnings thresholds for family reunifications visas, and pledges to continue to respect the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, newcomers to Britain would only gain access to public services and the NHS after paying taxes into the system for five consecutive years. UKIP would also ban immigration of people with “low skills” for five years after Britain leaves the EU.

Scottish National Party- Passionately “in”

The Scottish National Party did not spend significant time discussing immigration in their 2016 platform, which is the latest one available and reads a little like a “greatest hits” review of the party’s success as Scotland’s largest party (and third largest party overall in the UK). The main policy proposals by the SNP that would impact immigration is their continuing pledge to fight against Brexit, and at the same time, to fight for Scottish independence.  On their website, their immigration stance is similarly sparse, proposing “a fair, robust and secure immigration system that meets Scotland’s social and economic needs.”

As third biggest party in British parliament, the SNP’s opposition to Brexit, and very real threat to secede from the UK, has the potential to wield substantial opposition to a “hard Brexit.” This in turn could impact the plight of EU migrants and Britain’s adherence to EU obligations regarding migration and asylum. But this is an indirect effect of the SNP’s Brexit stance, and could be said as well for the Lib Dems and Greens.

The SNP declares that Scotland will actively help to tackle the refugee crises, and will continue to resettle people seeking asylum in Scotland. Apart from that, the party offers “crises grants” for families seeking refuge in Scotland, and wants to fight for access to tuition-free education for newcomers, as Scottish citizens are entitled to. Additionally, on their website, they suggest extending work visas to individuals who study in the UK.

Sources and Further Reading

Comparing the Conservative and Labour Manifestos on Migration, MV
May 2017 Political Monitor, IPSOS MORI
Change Britain’s Future- The Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2017
The Green Party for a Caring and Confident Britain 
Britain Together- UKIP Manifesto 2017
SNP 2016
What is the SNP’s policy on immigration? SNP Website
Image via UK Parliament on Flickr,  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).