How much do Brits care about immigration?

Migrants arrive at Dover harbour on board a Border Force vessel, after being rescued while attempting to cross the English Channel, in Dover, Britain, August 24, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Migrants arriving on a Border Force vessel in August. (Reuters)

Prime minister Rishi Sunak said stopping the arrival of the illegal boats was a "priority" for the British people last month - but just how important is preventing the Channel crossings to voters?

The prime minister also made getting control of immigration one of his five pledges for 2023 to prove to voters he is the right person to lead the UK.

His five pledges in order were: halving inflation, making sure the economy is growing, having debt falling, cutting NHS waiting lists and tackling the small boats.

Rishi Sunak has pledged to cut illegal immigration. (PA)
Rishi Sunak has pledged to cut illegal immigration. (PA)

Immigration is indeed one of the top things British people care about, but according to it is only the fourth most important area for voters, with inflation being twice as important.

The top four things voters care about according to the poll released by Ipsos Mori on Thursday are:

  • Inflation – 40%

  • Economy – 33%

  • NHS – 29%

  • Immigration – 20%

This has changed since January when 42% of people listed the NHS as their top priority, with economy and inflation pushed down into second and third. Immigration remained fourth.

Conservative supporters were three times as likely as Labour party supporters to mention immigration as a concern (36% versus 12%) and a similar gap between those aged over 65 (34%) and 18-34 year olds (11%).

Other top issues were the lack of faith in government, housing, education and climate change.

Despite only being the fourth most important policy area, immigration has dominated the political agenda for several months with Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman using increasingly tough language when defending their plans to clamp down on the illegal boat crossings.

On Wednesday the government's latest plan to stop the Channel crossings was approved by parliament.

The policy will see asylum seekers who arrive on British shores housed in several secure facilities – including former army barracks and a repurposed barge – while their applications are processed.

Read more: What is the government plan for migrant boats and how would it be enforced?

Many of the illegal crossings have to be rescued. (Reuters)
Many of the illegal crossings have to be rescued. (Reuters)

Read more: Immigration minister claims ‘the UK is essentially full’

If they have been found to have entered the UK illegally they will be deported back to their own country or Rwanda.

The controversial plan to ship asylum seekers to Rwanda has become extremely divisive in British politics.

Yet just 10% of people think it is the right way to tackle immigration, according to YouGov.

The same polling found seven in 10 Britons did not approve of how the government was handling immigration, including a majority of Conservative voters.

Several senior Tories have also criticised the plan. Former prime minister Theresa May warned that it will leave more people in slavery in the UK, calling it a "slap in the face" for anyone who cares about victims of human trafficking.

She told the Commons: "Modern slavery is the greatest human rights issue of our time. The approach in this bill, I believe, will have several ramifications. I believe it will consign victims to remain in slavery."

Many have also said the plan is unworkable with many of the deportations likely to be held up in court for a long time.