Three new opinion surveys show that British voters are increasingly skeptical about immigration and multiculturalism. Taken together, the reports highlight the widening gulf between the views of the British people and those of the governing elite who run the country.
Although Britain's coalition government has repeatedly promised to reduce immigration, in practice the government has found it difficult to take meaningful steps to address the problem. While the Conservative half of the coalition government is solidly in favor of reducing immigration, the Liberal Democrat half is not. As a result, the government has been effectively paralyzed on taking forceful action on the issue.
The British Social Attitudes Survey, an official survey conducted annually which polls Britons on their attitudes about a number of social issues, shows that Britons are far more strongly opposed to immigration, particularly from Muslim countries, than they have been at any time in recent memory.
The 2012 edition of the survey, published on September 17, found that 75% of Britons would like to see a reduction in immigration and 51% would like to see a large reduction. Moreover, 52% of respondents believe that immigration has a negative economic impact and 48% believe that it has a negative cultural impact.
The report states: "The period since the late-1990s has seen the largest inflow of immigrants to Britain in history…. A decade of high migration levels, and prominent political debates about the effects of immigration, have not been well-received by the British public. Despite the hard economic times, it also seems that it is concerns about culture which have risen the most over the decade."
The survey also shows that negative sentiment about immigration is not limited to the white British majority population; over one quarter of first and second generation migrants believe that mass immigration has had a negative impact on British society.
A second poll commissioned by MigrationWatch UK, an independent think tank that focuses on immigration and asylum issues, came up with similarly negative results. The poll, also published on September 17, found that 70% of those polled believe there should be a limit on the number of foreign students admitted to Britain.
Support for a limit was strong across political parties according to respondents' intention to vote, with 70% of Conservatives, 66% of Labour and 57% of Liberal Democrats in favor of a limit. The strongest support was in Scotland at 76%, while the lowest was in London at 62%. Women were more likely than men to favor a limit by 74% to 67%.
The issue of students from outside the European Union is currently a hot subject in Britain with increasing concern about the numbers of foreign students who study and then do not leave. According to MigrationWatch, about 250,000 foreign students from outside the EU arrive every year to study in Britain. About one in five stays on legally after their studies and become long-term immigrants while others return home but, as there are no exit checks, the number who have actually left is not known. It is believed, however, that those who stay illegally far outnumber those who stay legally.
The poll also found strong support for action against bogus students, whose real motive is to work illegally and send money home. Of those surveyed, 70% thought that those found to have insufficient English for their courses should be deported; 84% considered that those found to be working rather than studying should be deported; and 87% thought that those who had overstayed their visas after their course had finished should be deported.
There was also very strong support for firmer measures to prevent people coming to Britain as students if their real intention was to work. This was supported by 85% (63% strongly) and opposed by 6%.
On September 13, the British government announced that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) will begin counting non-EU students as immigrants as part of an effort to keep closer tabs foreigners entering and leaving the country.
The coalition government has said it wants to cut net migration, which stood at 216,000 in 2011, to the "tens of thousands" a year by 2015. But critics have warned that this can only be achieved by keeping official statistics on foreign students.
On September 6, MPs at the House of Commons passed a motion calling for the coalition government to take "all necessary steps" to keep the population of the United Kingdom below 70 million. It currently stands at 63 million but is expected to exceed 70 million within the next 15 years. This is equivalent to seven cities the size of Birmingham or fourteen times Bristol or Manchester.
Five million of that increase will be future immigrants and their children, and immigration opponents say that if immigration is allowed to continue at the present rate, the UK population will exceed 80 million.
Conservative MP Nicholas Soames blamed the previous Labour government for its "chaotic, ill-thought out and deeply irresponsible approach to immigration." Under its watch, Soames said, Britain had witnessed "the greatest wave of immigration... in nearly 1,000 years."
Soames also said: "In the coming 15 years we will have to build, just for new immigrants and their families, the equivalent of eight of the largest cities outside London... together with all their associated social infrastructure, of schools, roads, hospitals, railways, and all the rest."
According to MigrationWatch, England (which comprises just over half of the total landmass of the United Kingdom) is already the most crowded country in mainland Europe; it is nearly twice as crowded as Germany and three and a half times as crowded as France. In world rankings, England is the fifth most crowded country in the world; it has even more people per square kilometer than India.
A third survey, published on September 15 by the Extremis Project, a group that monitors populist politics, found that more than half (66%) of British voters would be willing to back a party that promised to "prioritize traditional British values over other cultures."
The poll found that 41% of people would vote for a party that promised to curb all immigration and more than one-third (37%) would support political parties that promised to reduce the number of Muslims in Britain and the presence of Islam in society.
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.