Since June 2016, immigration concerns with the EU have risen to the highest level since December 1999. Immigration concerns were high for both conservative and labor supporters suggesting both sides of the political compass had immigration and the impacts on their radar. Major surveys have claimed that the leave vote was a result of ‘widespread anti-immigration sentiment’ as opposed to a ‘wider dissatisfaction with politics’. Research collected by the National Centre for Social Research through a survey of nearly 3,000 British people states 73% of those worried about immigration voted leave. This fear has come from multiple different aspects, such as fear-mongering from pro-Brexit MPs, the media as well as statistics showing stress on/a decline in some services.
Areas in the UK that received large numbers of migrants from Eastern Europe would have seen a significant increase in anti-European sentiment after 2004, measured by vote shares for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in elections to the European Parliament. The referendum was also called while the Syrian war crisis was happening - which may have raised the public’s concerns on the impacts of mass immigration into the UK. The data collected and the timing of the referendum show that there is a clear relationship between immigration concerns and leave voters. This does therefore demonstrate that immigration concerns, for many leave voters, was a big aspect of their decision.
Anti-immigration sentiment existed in Britain long before the referendum. An IPSOS Mori poll found that nearly 50% of respondents felt immigration was one of the most pressing issues in the UK in 2014, diminishing other issues like the economy (27%), unemployment (17%) and crime (13%), and 55% of the British public wanted to limit immigration more. However, Britain has significantly more autonomy over its border than many other countries on the continent. It also accepted the lowest number of asylum applications: with just over 39,000 applications in 2015, compared with Germany’s 441,800 asylum applications in 2015, France’s 70,570, Italy’s 83,245, and even Hungary’s 174,435. This means that the UK received only 60 applications per 100,000 people. However, the opposition to accepting refugees was some of the most vocal in Europe. This could perhaps show how much emphasis and exaggeration was placed when talking about immigration by MP’s and the media. In contrast, it could show that Britain has had insecurities over immigration impacting negatively on UK services for a long period of time and just now having the formal chance (the referendum) to express these concerns.
The Syrian war crisis began in 2011 but it was not until 2014 when the refugee number reached 3 million and 100,000 people had fled to Europe. In 2015 it is fair to say Europe began to feel the pressure which definitely increased many European citizens' concerns. In contrast, the photo - shown in figure 3 - of the two-year-old drowned Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, came out and shocked the world. This did have an impact and created more attention and concern as it began to give more emotion and humanity to the fleeing refugees. The number of daily donations to the Swedish Red Cross campaign for Syrian refugees was 55 times greater in the week after the photo than the week before. But this was short-lived and, as the weeks passed after the photo surfaced, the amount declined heavily - people started to care more but it eventually wore out.
By 2015, 1 million immigrants had reached Europe, creating further scares for the UK public on the strains of our services. With fear-based messages appearing during important political events, such as elections, right-winged parties were certainly taking advantage of the already concerned public to emphasize the leave message.
In conclusion, it is clear that there were high immigration concerns surrounding the referendum. In a way, immigration was a difficult issue to not think about - or be exposed to - for the British public because of its high coverage which I will explore in section two. The data and attitudes expressed by the public, therefore, emphasize that immigration concerns certainly were a significant factor in voter decisions.