Report reveals surprising consensus on Brexit among Remain and Leave voters

A new survey from NatCen Social Research* reveals that voters want the UK to stay in the EU single market but be able to control immigration

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Despite their differences it appears that many Remain and Leave voters agree on what Brexit should mean.

Almost everyone polled (90%) supported remaining part of the European single market, regardless of how they voted in the EU Referendum, according to the new report.

But at the same time as many as seven in ten (70%) think the UK should be able to limit the number of people from the EU who come here to live and work. Indeed, almost three-quarters (74%) believe that potential EU migrants should have to apply to come here in the same way non-EU migrants have to do.

The research paper, that NatCen claims is the most comprehensive study yet undertaken of public attitudes towards the shape that Brexit should take and published as part of the ESRC-funded What UK Thinks: EU project, shows that Leave voters (90% in favour) are almost as keen as Remain voters (94%) on staying in the single market.

Meanwhile, although less than the figure for Leave voters (85%), over half (55%) of Remain supporters are in favour of the UK being able to limit EU immigration.

The results, which come from NatCen’s new panel survey, show widespread support both for measures that are often labelled a ‘soft’ Brexit and for those that are widely considered to form part of a ‘hard’ Brexit.

On possible options for a ‘soft’ Brexit:

  • EU regulations: nearlytwo-thirds (65%) of all voters, including over half of Leave voters (55%), think British firms should continue to comply with EU regulations on the design and safety of goods.
  • Bank passporting: almost two-thirds (63%) of all voters, including 57% of Leave supporters, think EU banks should be allowed to do business in the UK in return for UK banks being able to do the same in the EU.
  • Common fisheries: three in five (60%) of all voters, including a half (50%) of Leave voters, think that EU fishermen should still be able to work in British waters in return for UK fishermen being able to fish in EU waters.

And on possibilities for a ‘hard’ Brexit:

  • Customs checks: At least seven in ten (71%), including 55% of Remain voters, back reintroducing customs checks on people and goods coming into the UK from the EU.
  • Free healthcare for EU visitors: At least three in five (62%) voters, including nearly half (48%) of Remain supporters, favour ending free NHS healthcare for people visiting from the EU.
  • Passport checks between UK and Ireland: Although less than half (45%) of all voters in Britain support introducing passport checks between the UK and Ireland, only 29% are opposed. The remainder (25%) are neither in favour nor against.

Where Remain and Leave voters do disagree is on the relative importance of retaining access to the single market versus being able to limit immigration. While 70% of Remain voters think the UK should ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ allow freedom of movement for EU citizens if that were the only way to keep free trade with the EU, 70% of Leave voters say the government ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ should not strike such a deal. As a result, voters as a whole are evenly divided on the issue, with 49% thinking we should allow freedom of movement if it enables the UK to keep free trade, and 51% not.

Professor John Curtice, Senior Research Fellow at NatCen, said, “Irrespective of how they voted, voters in Britain do not feel that the UK’s exit from the EU should necessarily be a choice between a ‘hard’ or a ‘soft’ withdrawal. Rather, many back options on both menus. Consequently, the kind of deal that is most likely to prove electorally popular is one that maintains free trade but permits at least some limits on EU migration.

“That, of course, is the deal that many in the EU insist will not be possible. In those circumstances, the UK government will be faced with a tough choice. But given that most Leave voters – and, indeed, a majority of Conservative voters – prioritise limits on immigration over keeping free trade, perhaps we should not be surprised if that would be the choice that, if necessary, it will be inclined to make.”

*NatCen Social Research interviewed 1,391 people between 22 September and 24 October 2016, either via the internet or over the phone. All respondents were originally interviewed as part of the random probability face-to-face 2015 British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey. The data have been weighted to take account of differences between the composition of the sample and that of the original BSA sample, as well as to ensure that it matches the known demographic characteristics of the population. After weighting 51% of the sample said that they have voted Leave, 49% Remain, very close to the actual result of 52% Leave, 49% Remain.

Source: NatCen

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