British people's perceptions of the impact of immigration improved markedly between 2015 and 2017, according to an authoritative survey published today.
The British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, which canvasses the opinions of almost 4,000 respondents, found that 47 per cent of Britons think that immigration has a "good" impact on the economy – a striking 14 per cent higher than the same question only two years earlier.
The figures show a remarkable turnaround in opinions from 2011, the first year the question was asked as the slowdown from the global financial crisis continued. Only 21 per cent thought immigration benefited the economy in 2011, and 42 per cent believed it was an outright bad thing.
The change in attitudes is particularly striking given the centrality of debates around migration in recent years. Migration was one of the key issues highlighted by both official and unofficial leave campaigns during the EU referendum. The official Vote Leave campaign said the migration system is "out of control" in campaign literature, while 33 per cent of British voters said that controlling immigration was the main reason to vote for leave, according to polls commissioned by Lord Ashcroft.
The government continues to be gripped by infighting over the future shape of the UK's immigration system, with the Cabinet split over whether to scrap a target to reduce net migration to the UK to the "hundreds of thousands".
John Curtice and Sarah Tipping, top researchers at the National Centre for Social Research, which compiled the survey, said that opinion has moved "markedly" in a positive direction in the period after the Brexit campaign.
"There is little sign here that the EU referendum campaign served to make Britain less tolerant towards migrants," they said. "Rather they have apparently come to be valued to a degree that was not in evidence before the referendum campaign."
British citizens' opinions on migrants' impacts on the UK's cultural life have also improved strongly, with a 12-percentage-point increase in the proportion who believe it has enriched the nation.
Some 44 per cent believe immigration is positive culturally, compared to only 23 per cent who believe it undermines British culture – almost half those who thought the same in 2011.