A meeting of minds? The impact of deliberation on attitudes towards post-Brexit immigration policy

Surveys largely capture people’s top-of-the-head reactions. But do their views change if they have the chance to deliberate and discuss a policy question? This chapter reports what happened when a random sample of British adults were brought together online to consider Britain’s immigration policy after Brexit. We summarise the character of the discussion, show how attitudes changed in the immediate wake of the deliberation, and assess the longer-term impact on participants’ opinions.


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Two dominant themes in discussions

Two main sets of arguments dominated people’s reasoning – moral considerations and perceptions of self-interest.

  • Moral considerations were mostly used in defence of a liberal approach. Concern was expressed about the ethics of splitting up families, of only valuing migrants for their economic contribution. and of not recognising everyone’s right to a good quality of life.
  • Considerations of self-interest often lay behind arguments for tighter control. These included the need for migrants to have the skills Britain needs, for them to be self-reliant and not call on the welfare state – and that they should have the language skills needed to integrate effectively.

Contrary movements

After the deliberation, more people thought that immigration benefitted Britain – but there was also somewhat increased support for tighter control.

  • The proportion saying that immigration is good for Britain’s economy increased from 61% to 70%, while the proportion who said that it enriched the country’s culture rose from 64% to 69%
  • Support for requiring EU migrants to apply to come to Britain increased from 60% to 73%
  • Support for allowing migrants into Britain irrespective of their income fell from 36% to 31%

Some meeting of minds

Leave supporters became more likely to say that immigration is beneficial, while Remainers moved in favour of tighter control.

  • Among Leavers, support for the view that immigration is good for the economy increased from 43% to 58%, while the proportion who said it was culturally enriching rose from 42% to 50%.
  • After deliberating, 63% of Remainers said EU migrants should have to apply to come to Britain, up from 38% beforehand.
  • However, when participants were interviewed again some months after the deliberation, typically only around a half had stuck with their revised point of view.

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