Suella Braverman meeting Gérald Darmanin in France, Nov 2022. Suella Braverman meeting Gérald Darmanin in France, Nov 2022. Source: UK Home Office - Wikicommons / cropped from original / shared under license CC BY 2.0

Recent research indicates most British people are actually repulsed by the intensifying cruelty of Braverman and her party, writes Sean Ledwith

There are two striking aspects of the government’s current approach to dealing with asylum seekers. One is the unrelenting callousness of Sunak, Braverman, and the Home Office in their determination to earn cheap culture-war points with their crass ‘Stop the Boats’ campaign. Just this week, right-wing Tory backbenchers have persuaded the government to give itself the ability to ignore rulings from the European Court of Justice. Last year, the ECHR issued Rule 39 orders that thwarted Braverman’s deportation flights to Rwanda. Hard-right Tory MPs were foaming at the mouth, and the new amendments to the Illegal Immigration Bill are now the pernicious outcome of their insatiable appetite to punish some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Poisonous ideology

The more uplifting and possibly surprising aspect of the refugee debate is that recent surveys of public opinion indicate most British people are repulsed by the vindictiveness of Braverman and company and believe the government is completely mishandling the migration issue. This refreshing news is particularly remarkable in light of the relentless barrage of anti-migrant headlines and stories promoted in the mainstream media, especially in the vile rhetoric of the Mail and Express papers. The resilience of widespread empathy for the oppressed and for support for a multicultural society proves the poisonous ideology of the Tories has not permeated throughout the mass of the population, despite the best efforts of Sunak and Braverman.

Braverman’s dog-whistle

The latter has brazenly promoted falsehoods in her zeal over recent months to pander to the extreme right. Last year she absurdly claimed: ‘There are 100 million people around the world who could qualify for protection under our current laws. Let’s be clear. They are coming here.’ She referred to ‘an invasion of our southern coast’ and in a nightmarish inversion of Martin Luther King, she told the Tory conference of her ‘dream’ to see asylum seekers boarding a deportation flight to Rwanda. Needless to say, all this quasi-fascist drivel has been uncritically parroted by the right-wing press. Two pieces of recent research, however, suggest large sections of British society are thankfully deaf to Braverman’s dog whistle.

More welcoming

One of the surveys, by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, indicates that the UK is placed near the top of an international league table rating countries’ attitudes to immigration. Out of seventeen developed economies, Britain is ranked in the top position in terms of willingness to accept new arrivals. Only 31% of Britons believe the government should place strict limits on the number of foreigners who should be permitted into the country. That makes the UK even more welcoming than both Germany and Canada, with 35% and 39% respectively. Similarly, almost 70% of British people believe the government should permit anyone to come into the country if there are enough jobs for them.


The survey also revealed these progressive views on immigration are part of an attitudinal change that has taken place over recent decades. Thirteen years of Tory austerity and racism have signally failed to dent the increasingly enlightened and tolerant instincts of the majority of working-class people. Some of the other uplifting headlines from the survey include: 

  • In 2009, 65% of Britons believed employers should give priority in recruitment to UK-born citizens. That figure has now fallen to 29%. In 2009, Britain was ranked at the top of eleven countries holding this view.
  • British people are less likely (21%) to think immigration causes unemployment than those in Germany (27%) or the US (31%).
  • Only Canada (73%) believes more than the UK (70%) that immigration enhances cultural diversity.
  • People in the UK are less likely to believe immigration causes crime (22%) or terrorism (28%) than any other developed state.
  • British people (63%) are only below South Korea (67%) in believing immigrants fill important gaps in the job market.
  • UK is overall ranked in fourth place out of seventeen for believing immigration is a positive force in society.

More bad news for Braverman

There is more bad news for the Tories on the issue from YouGov polling published recently: 72% of people think the government is making a mess of migration policy, with 44% believing asylum seekers are being treated in an inhumane way. This data also supports the Policy Institute’s view that more progressive views are becoming the norm. In the last seven years, the number of people believing immigration is too high has fallen from 70% to less than 60%. Most people (76%) would be happy to see the same or even increased levels of skilled migrants, and over 70% feel the same or greater level of refugees fleeing persecution should be permitted to come to the UK. This sort of data suggests there are strong grounds for optimism regarding British attitudes to migration-but don’t expect to read about that in the Mail or Express.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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