Right-wing parties in power and immigration
: causes and mechanisms of policy change in the UK, Switzerland and France between 2002 and 2015

  • Anna McKeever

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This comparative study examines the reasons why right-wing parties in power in the UK, Switzerland and France changed their immigration policy stances between 2002 and 2015. The analysis of immigration policy change in each of the three cases suggests that the causes of immigration policy change are broadly the same, but the way these narratives are used by the UK Conservative Party, Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement and Swiss People’s Party are different and context-dependent. This thesis explores factors exogenous to the party that influence right-wing parties’ choices on immigration. With immigration becoming a key issue on the political agenda in Western Europe and beyond, it is crucial to explain what drives right-wing parties in power to toughen their stance on immigration as it signals both the revival of nationalism and party system change. This research brings contributions to three different literature strands: party politics, public policy and the literature on Euroscepticism.

The analysis of semi-structured elite interviews with politicians, civil servants, special advisors, representative from of interest groups, which examined work, student and family migration routes, has found that two factors were consistent across three cases: public opinion and economic anxieties, which underpinned their logic of immigration policy change. The differences across cases regarding the changing nature of parties’ stances on immigration are demonstrated examining the effects of the EU integration, party competition on the right and identity anxieties. In addition to the importance of exploring structural factors that influence immigration policy-making, the research does not disregard the role of the agency and the findings demonstrate that one agency-related factor was crucial in explaining the evolution of British immigration policy: Home Office’s ideological dogmatism.

Using process tracing analysis, this research identifies the mechanisms that account for this change. The analysis of semi-structured elite interviews demonstrates that framing was a discursive mechanism that was prescient across all three cases. The procedural mechanisms, the mechanisms that actually accounted for immigration policy change varied across the cases. While departmental competition was a mechanism that led to the policy change in France and in the UK, in Switzerland direct democracy led to the evolution of immigration policy. By comparing three case studies, the research shed light on the differences in the responses of right-wing parties in power to immigration and pinpointed that political opportunity structures helped to explain this variation. The research has identified three facets of a POS that explain this variation: a party’s attitude to the EU, the presence of a strong radical right competitor and citizenship regime.

The findings of this research are relevant for the various actors involved in policy making, including politicians, special advisors and interest groups by shedding the light on the process of immigration policy making in three cases. While this thesis addressed the decision-making processes of right-wing parties in power in relation to immigration, the implications for policy-making process can be extrapolated onto other policy areas. Actors involved in policy making can learn the significance of competition between different departments for making their policy choices to dominate.
Date of AwardMar 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorCathy Gormley-Heenan (Supervisor), Markus Ketola (Supervisor) & Ciaran Burke (Supervisor)

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