This Working Paper analyses how different narratives on migration shape and are deployed in political debate and policymaking in the United Kingdom. It investigates how political actors process salient narratives on migration that emerge in the public and political domain and how they inform policy. Of particular interest is the question of how often simplistic, emotive narratives on migration circulating in sections of the British media and political debate are processed in policymaking spheres.
Focusing on three case studies, the 2015 ‘migration crisis’, the Ukrainian refugee crisis in 2022, and ‘small boat’ arrivals in 2022, the report aims to elucidate how migration narratives ‘move’ across mass media coverage, political debate, and policymaking.
The first section sets out long-standing narratives on migration in the UK, key political and policy developments over the past decade and the salience of immigration and public opinion.
Deploying a unique methodology to trace government strategies for responding to narratives, the second section analyses the dominant narratives in the British press, parliamentary debate, and policy documentation in each of the three cases.
In the third and final section, the report concludes that there is considerable alignment in narratives across the media, political debate, and policy documents. Despite variations in narrative style, policymaking venues appear to embrace more ‘lay’ and populist narratives invoked in political debate. Moreover, narratives are often embedded in long-standing ‘master’ narratives on migration in the United Kingdom.