The public overwhelmingly supports granting EU migrants currently living in the UK permission to stay after the UK formally leaves the bloc, a new poll has found.
In a survey for think tank British Future, pollsters ICM found 84 per cent of people backed giving the three million EU citizens in the UK the right to stay indefinitely. In a sign of broad-based support, 77 per cent of Leave voters and 78 per cent of Ukip backers also signalled their support for the idea.
The findings come as concern over Theresa May's strategy to use the residency status of EU migrants as a bargaining chip in the upcoming Brexit negotiations continues to grow. Over the weekend a report in The Times suggested the idea was dreamt up by Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK's top European diplomat, to avoid throwing away one of the UK's "few cards" it can play ahead of tense conversations with the likes of Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker.
Immigration figures out on Thursday – the first to be released after the referendum – could show a rise in the number of EU nationals applying for UK citizenship in the first three months of the year in order to protect their rights to live in the UK before the referendum. Citizenship applications rose by 25 per cent to 5,245 in the final three months of 2015 as David Cameron geared up to set the date for the EU referendum.
The British Future report, which calls for the government to launch a "national conversation" to shape the UK's future immigration policy, also identifies big differences in how Britons view different categories of migration. The think tank claims it is too simplistic to suggest people who voted to leave the EU don't like migration and those who voted to stay do, adding: "These findings do not show … a strong public desire to reduce all immigration at all costs."
For instance, while 62 per cent of people want to cut the number of low-skilled migrants coming to UK, only 12 per cent would reduce the level of skilled migration. Nearly half of Britons want to see more skilled workers arriving in the UK – a proportion which is broadly similar across those who voted to stay in the EU and those who voted to leave.
Jill Rutter, director of strategy for British Future, said: "There are sure to be changes to immigration policy once we know what shape Brexit takes. That will bring challenges but it also presents an opportunity – for a comprehensive review of a system that is widely believed to be failing and in which the public has lost all confidence."