Brexiting yourself in the foot

14 June 2016

Composite image of UK and EU flag

Eurosceptic regions across the UK have the most to lose from Brexit, new research led by Cardiff University shows.

As part of the Smart Specialisation for Regional Innovation (SmartSpec) project, led by Professor Kevin Morgan of the University’s School of Geography and Planning, a team of researchers cross referenced data on the UK’s regional economic output to other parts of the EU with information from the British Election Survey, which asks people how they would vote in the EU referendum.

The results showed that London and Scotland - the most pro-EU areas of the UK - are less economically integrated with the EU than the UK average. Meanwhile, outside the prosperous south east, rural counties such as North Yorkshire and Dorset, and more urban ones, like West Yorkshire and Lancashire, are more integrated with the EU, and also tend to be more Eurosceptic.

In the paper – authored by John Springford, Philip McCann, Bart Los and Mark Thissen - the authors say: “The Leave camp has signalled that it is going to talk about immigration for the remainder of the referendum campaign. This relentless focus on immigration keeps the public eye on the common - but erroneous - assumption that immigration depresses wages and piles pressure on public services. Leave have portrayed Bremainers as rich Londoners who are out of touch.

“This message that Remain represents rich London-based elites who are the main beneficiaries of EU integration resonates most strongly in regions outside of London whose economies have been struggling since the 2008 crash. But the irony is that it is these regions, not London and its rich commuter belt, that have most to lose from leaving the EU.”

The research also suggests that it is a region’s attitude towards immigration that shapes Euroscepticism, rather than traditional indicators such as age or education. However, the report points out that these areas tend to have fewer immigrants than more pro-EU regions – and they have more to lose economically from Brexit, since their economies are more closely integrated with the EU.

The authors warn: “At a national level, the referendum debate is boiling down to a trade-off: lower immigration by leaving, or secure the economy by remaining. But for Eurosceptic regions that trade-off does not exist: by voting to leave the EU, the denizens of these regions would shrink immigration to London and other cities – while hurting their own region’s economy.”

Professor Kevin Morgan of the School of Geography and Planning added: “This research shows that Brexit would be a great tragedy for some of the UK’s poorest areas. It is na├»ve and misleading of the Leave campaign to suggest that, after Brexit, the money these areas will lose from the EU will be underwritten by the UK – this is simply not the case. It’s time to face facts and reject fantasies – leaving the EU will be a disaster for the UK and especially for its poorest areas.”