Public opinion on immigration remains divided as small boat crossings hit record high for 2024

Data released by the Home Office reports that 534 people were detected making the Channel crossing by small boat this past weekend on Sunday 14, a new daily high for 2024. 

Despite the controversy surrounding it, Rishi Sunak remains confident that his controversial Rwanda Bill, which would send people crossing the channel in small boats to Rwanda, will discourage the crossings. 

Until now it seems very little has disrupted small boats from crossing the Channel with over 5000 asylum seekers gaining entry to the UK between January to March, which is already the busiest quarter for small boats crossing on record. 

With Sunak expected to go to the polls in the second half of 2024, immigration will become a major campaign issue when the general election is eventually called.

Credit: Photo by Thomas Krych/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

Evidence from a Migration Observatory report, UK Public Opinion Toward Immigration, suggests that Britons’ attitudes to asylum seekers and migration may be becoming less tolerant. 

The Migration Observatory asked participants their opinions and attitudes to understand whether people favour or oppose immigration in the UK. 

The data showed a significant difference between attitudes on whether participants thought immigration should be reduced, remain the same, or increased, and whether immigration can generally be considered a good or bad thing. 

Whilst 37% of participants said that immigration should be Reduced a lot, 30% of participants said that immigration was Neither bad nor good, and 20% said that immigration was Good

Data Source: Migration Observatory – UK Public Opinion Toward Immigration
Data Source: Migration Observatory – UK Public Opinion Toward Immigration

The survey was keen to distinguish between migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Migrants leave their home by choice with intentions to search for a better opportunity. Refugees and asylum seekers are forced to leave their home under threat of force, conflict, and persecution. 

Data showed that participants predominantly wanted A lot more difficult application processes. It is worth noting that 25.7%, the majority dissection, said that the process should be Neither easier nor more difficult

Data Source: Migration Observatory – UK Public Opinion Toward Immigration

Estimates on migration from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that in June 2023 net migration was 672,000, with 1.2 million people migrating into the UK and 508,000 emigrating from the UK. 

According to the same report the last 250 years have seen unprecedented increases in both immigration and emigration. Since 1994, the number of people migrating to the UK has been higher than the number of people emigrating to other countries. 

Stephen Kinnock, Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister, said: “Only Labour has a serious plan to clear the Tory asylum backlog, end the use of emergency asylum hotels, smash the criminal smuggler gangs, and restore security to our borders. It’s time for a General Election so that our country can finally have the government that it needs and deserves.”

Liberal Democrats describe the government’s plan to tackle small boats as “immoral, ineffective and incredibly costly for taxpayers”. 

They said the plan “will do nothing to address the criminal gangs responsible for arranging these dangerous crossings, and instead punishes the victims of human trafficking”.

Sir Edward Davey walking through the street.

On Sunak’s pledge to send those who do arrive on the shores of England to Rwanda, Sir Edward Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton, said: “It’s time for the Conservatives to accept reality and abandon this impractical, inhumane and extortionately expensive policy. 

“Of course we all want to stop boat crossings in the Channel but this policy will do nothing of the sort. 

“We need to look to long-term sustainable solutions, which must include an efficient processing system to clear the asylum backlog, and safe and legal routes for refugees.”

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