Finance / Britain ‘at its most Eurosceptic’ following Brexit referendum

Britain ‘at its most Eurosceptic’ following Brexit referendum

Britain was more Eurosceptic after the Brexit referendum than at any point in the previous 33 years, a major survey of social attitudes suggests.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, more than three quarters (76%) of Britons backed either leaving the European Union or reducing its powers, up from around two-thirds (65%) in 2015, and a nine-point increase on the previous all-time high of 67% in 2012.

The British Social Attitudes (BSA) report, which has been running since 1983, said "Britain emerged from the referendum far more sceptical about the EU than it had ever been previously".

"Whereas previously most Eurosceptics said that Britain should stay in the EU while endeavouring to reduce its powers, by the time that the referendum was over the majority felt that we should leave," it added.

It also notes how the referendum campaign itself had "profound consequences", among them that it "moved public opinion as a whole in a more sceptical direction", and that it "exacerbated the social and cultural division about the merits of EU membership".

Prime Minister Theresa May's assessment that the UK must gain full control over immigration after Brexit to deliver on the referendum result appears to be supported by the survey.

It found that nearly three quarters (73%) of voters worried about immigration voted Leave, compared with 36% who did not identify it as a concern.

Public attitudes towards immigration appear to have hardened since former PM Tony Blair decided not to impose transitional controls on the number of people from eastern Europe who could come to the UK after their countries joined the EU in 2004.

The BSA survey found that two-thirds (65%) of voters want all immigrants to speak good English, have good educational qualifications and offer work skills needed in Britain, up from around half (49%) in 2002.

However, attitudes to immigration, the report states, "have become more polarised" - and while older people and non-graduates are more likely than ever to believe that immigration is bad for the economy, the opposite is true for the young and highly educated.

While the Conservative Party now explicitly backs Brexit, with nearly half of its supporters (46%) voting to Remain in the EU compared to 54% who backed Leave.

But 53% of Tory Remainers were "reluctant" to back staying in the EU, compared to 47% who were "keen", the survey found.

Meanwhile, 67% of Labour and 73% of Liberal Democrat voters backed Remain, while 100% of Ukip supporters voted for Brexit.

The BSA also used a series of questions to divide the people it surveyed into groups of “authoritarian”, “libertarian” or “in-between” voters.

It found that Brexit was backed by 72% of so-called authoritarian voters, who may feel everyone in society should “acknowledge and accept a common set of social mores and cultural practices, as this helps to maintain a more cohesive society”.

By comparison, quitting the EU was only backed by around a fifth (21%) of so-called libertarian voters, who may feel “people should largely be free to choose their own moral and cultural compass and thus feel relatively happy about living in a diverse society”.

A little more than half (53%) of those falling in-between backed Brexit.

:: The 2016 British Social Attitudes survey consisted of 2,942 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain between July 13 and November 30, 2016.


PA Wire

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