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Four ways the anti-immigration vote won the referendum for Brexit

Total control on immigration mattered more to voters than the single market. 

The historic outcome of the EU referendum coincided with a 10 point surge (between May and June) in people saying immigration is the biggest issue facing the country in Ipsos MORI’s Issues Index. And in the final two weeks before the polls opened, our Political Monitor showed that immigration ranked as the single biggest issue which would affect how the public voted in the referendum, overtaking the economy.

The Issues Index has seen concern about immigration steadily increase over recent years, and so it was already a central theme in the debate long before Nigel Farage revealed the now infamous Breaking Point poster.  Here are four reasons immigration was the key to the result which unfolded on 23rd June:

1. Voters didn't have to be affected by immigration personally

We know people said immigration was the single biggest motivating factor for how they would vote, ahead of the economy, sovereignty and impact on public services. However, despite one in three saying that immigration was the top issue for them, in a different study over half of people said that it had had no impact on them personally. 
For those saying that they would vote Leave, half said that they had experienced no impact personally from EU immigration. When breaking this down by age, older people were less likely to be affected by immigration than young people, with 59 per cent of over 55s saying that had EU immigration had no impact on them personally. So for so-called  Project Fear, it was difficult to find messages which would resonate with people in the same way as they could for the economy – because for Leave voters it was about something more intangible and fundamental than how it affected them personally.

2. Total immigration control mattered most

The ‘red line’ for many voters was total control over immigration, which many saw as more important than access to the EU single market. Over half of the general public said that the Government should have total control over immigration, even if it meant leaving the EU, compared to the 33 per cent who felt the benefits of remaining the EU outweighed the Government’s control over immigration.

Furthermore, opinion was divided on free movement. Forty-two percent thought that Britain should continue to allow EU citizens to come and work in the Britain in return for access to single market and an almost equal number said that Britain should stop EU citizens coming to live and work here with new immigration rules - even if that restricted Britain’s access to the single market. A further poll for BBC Newsnight after the vote showed that this measure had not shifted with a opinion split slightly in favour of limiting movement.  This will be something to look out for as negotiations the UK’s future relationship with the EU get underway.

3. Leave voters were more set in their minds

Ipsos MORI’s longitudinal study on attitudes to immigration revealed that there is huge amount of churn in the people who are more positive about immigration and want to see it increase. Contrary to expectations of this group of people being a stable core of liberals, their views are more likely to change than those who want immigration to decrease. Only four in ten of those who said they would like to see the number of immigrants coming to Britain increased in February of this year held the same position in June. Over a third changed their minds to say that they wanted the numbers reduced.

This was also true for the referendum debate. When prompted with potential changes to immigration levels, remain supporters were more likely to waver in their support than leave voters. Those remain voters who said they would still want to stay in the EU if immigration was at the current level of 260,000 per year was high, at 82 per cent, but that dropped to 46 per cent if immigration increased by an additional 100,000 per year.

4. It was the older generation what won it

In the week before the referendum, Ipsos MORI’s Bobby Duffy predicted that if young people didn’t turn out to vote in sufficient numbers, the result would be Brexit. Remain had a huge advantage with the young. Our final EU referendum poll showed that two in three 18 to 34 year olds said they would vote Remain compared with 40 per cent of those aged over 55.  The generational gap grows further when looking at attitudes towards immigration. Britons aged between 18 and 34 are twice as likely to think that immigration has been good for their area than those aged over 55.  As we know from the general election turnout, they are less likely to turn up and vote. Unfortunately for the Remain camp, it seems that they didn't show up in sufficient numbers on the day.

Aalia Khan works for the Social Research Institute at Ipsos MORI.

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.