We don’t want people coming into Britain—so why are we so desperate to leave?by Peter Kellner / July 19, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Click on the image to view a full size version Do we want a drawbridge-up or drawbridge-down society? Polls show repeatedly that most of us dislike immigrants, the European Union and globalisation. This suggests that we want to keep the rest of the world at bay. However, YouGov’s latest poll for Prospect suggests that most of us would like the drawbridge down—but to let us out, not others in. Already, more than one adult in three has significant overseas links. Seven per cent were born abroad; 18 per cent currently have close relatives abroad and 23 per cent have lived abroad at some point for six months or longer. When we take account of the overlap between these groups, we find that 36 per cent have at least one of these overseas links. When we then ask people whether they would like to live abroad at some point in the future, 30 per cent say “yes,” 33 per cent say “no—I want to spend the rest of my life in the UK” and 37 per cent say “don’t know” or “it depends.” Not surprisingly, the under-25s are the likeliest to want to live abroad. But the actual figures are striking: as many as 58 per cent would definitely like to live abroad at some point; only 9 per cent reject the idea. Just as surprising (to me at least) is that having existing overseas links makes only a slight difference. Among people who have such links, 35 per cent would like to live abroad; but among the rest of us, the proportion is not much lower: 28 per cent. Now, it’s possible that some people might be nervous about moving abroad, lest their living standards fall. So we asked a separate sample where would they live if they could choose anywhere in the world and maintain their current living standards. This time a clear majority, 58 per cent, chose abroad, with significant numbers choosing Europe, Australia or New Zealand and North America. Six per cent told us that their ideal home would be on a Pacific or Caribbean island. Returning from dreams to reality, we asked parents whether they expected their children to live overseas. Almost half of them say it’s very or fairly likely that one or more of their kids will study or work abroad at some point in their lives; and as many as 22 per cent of parents expect at least one child to emigrate permanently. What does this desire for a one-way drawbridge tell us? Is it a sign of pessimism about Britain or enthusiasm for broader horizons? Or both? Let the debate commence.