Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Quickfire
25 May

Labour is trying to outflank the Tories on immigration

The publication of record net migration figures has put the issue back on the political front line.

By Freddie Hayward

Net migration was 606,000 in the 12 months up to December 2022. This figure reflects three key trends. That the government’s immigration policy since Brexit has intentionally brought more people in to fill gaps in sectors such as the NHS and social care. That the UK has welcomed thousands of people fleeing war in Ukraine and anti-democratic clampdowns in Hong Kong. And that the UK’s higher education sector is increasingly dependent on foreign students.

The public broadly supports these three different groups of migrants. This helps explain why even though almost half of the public want immigration reduced they aren’t sure where those cuts should fall. In general, attitudes towards immigration have become more positive since 2016. But I’m sceptical about the supposed liberalisation of attitudes towards immigration because of how quickly those views can change.

Watch: Freddie Hayward and Rachel Wearmouth discuss the immigration statistics on the New Statesman podcast

Labour is trying to take the conversation in a new direction. Keir Starmer has transitioned from champion of free movement to defender of “secure borders”. He said at PMQs this week that today’s figures constitute “uncontrolled” migration. In November, Starmer told business leaders that any increase in migration must be matched by business investment in homegrown skills. Labour’s announcement yesterday (24 May) – that it would scrap rules allowing companies to pay foreign workers less – is an example of that strategy.

Labour is trying to outflank the Tories on immigration. Remember that the Conservatives are vulnerable on the topic: left-wing voters dislike their harsh rhetoric and those on the right think they’re incompetent. Starmer’s comments at PMQs yesterday showed Labour will try to frame the government as having lost control.

Select and enter your email address Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A quick and essential guide to domestic politics from the New Statesman's Westminster team. A weekly newsletter helping you understand the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email. Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

This is key. Brexit was supposed to give the UK control over its borders. But there’s a risk that voters will once again think immigration is uncontrolled if they see little alignment between what politicians say and what they do.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe to it on Substack here.

Content from our partners
Sustainable finance can save us from the energy crisis – with the Luxembourg Stock Exchange
How trailblazers are using smart meters to make the move to net zero
How heat network integration underpins "London's most sustainable building"

[See also: Politicians should treat high immigration as a success, not a failure]

Topics in this article : ,