Future of England Survey reveals public attitudes towards Brexit and the union
24 October 2019
Deep divides fuelled by the Brexit debate have been laid bare in new research from Cardiff University and the University of Edinburgh.
Academics say the latest Future of England Survey, which explores people’s attitudes to the constitution across England, Scotland and Wales, will be ‘uncomfortable reading’ for both those who voted Leave and those who voted Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum.
Among the questions posed, representative samples of electorates in each country were asked what they would be willing to see happen to get their way on Brexit. The researchers have been asking people’s views on this topic since the historic vote three years ago. A range of scenarios were put to respondents and they were asked to state whether each one was a ‘price worth paying’ or ‘not worth paying’ to either Leave the EU or to Remain.
Key findings from the 2019 Future of England Survey, conducted by YouGov, show:
- Most Leave voters across all three countries think violence towards MPs is a ‘price worth paying’ for Brexit - 71% in England, 60% in Scotland and 70% in Wales. The majority of Remain voters across all three countries think violence towards MPs is a ‘price worth paying’ to Remain - 58% in England, 53% in Scotland and 56% in Wales.
- A majority of Remain voters across all three countries think protests in which members of the public are badly injured are a ‘price worth paying’ to stop Brexit and remain in the EU - 57% in England, 56% in Scotland and 57% in Wales. Even larger majorities of Leave voters in all three countries think protests in which members of the public are badly injured are a ‘price worth paying’ to achieve Brexit - 69% in England, 62% in Scotland and 70% in Wales.
- Majorities in England, Scotland and Wales think that violence towards MPs and violent protests in which people are badly injured is ‘likely to occur’ if Brexit takes place.
Professor Richard Wyn Jones, co-director of the Future of England Survey and director of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, said: “It’s not often that one finds oneself shaken by research findings, but in this case it’s hard to not be genuinely shocked - not only by the fact that so many think that violence is a likely consequence of Brexit, but that so many on either side of the Brexit divide seem to think that such events might be ‘worth it’ in order to secure their preferred outcome.
Further results reveal possible consequences to the union. In 2017, the research team was among the first to show that a majority of Leavers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland regarded the unravelling of the Northern Ireland peace process and a second Scottish independence referendum with a Yes vote as a ‘price worth paying’ for Brexit.
New findings from the 2019 Future of England Survey reveal that:
- Half of all those polled in Wales (47%), more than half in England (52%) and almost two thirds in Scotland (61%) think that Brexit is likely to lead to the break-up of the UK.
- Remain voters are particularly likely to believe that Brexit will lead to the breakup of the UK (around three quarters in Scotland, England and Wales believe this) but similar proportions of Leave voters believe staying in the EU will undermine faith in the union.
- Majorities on both sides of the Brexit divide are willing to see substantial change to the union to get their own way on Brexit. Among Leave voters, 74% in England, 74% in Wales and 59% in Scotland believe the breakup of the UK would be worth it to take back control via Brexit. Similar proportions of Remain voters believe that undermining faith in the union would be a price worth paying to stay in the EU. Majorities of Remain voters in England, Scotland and Wales believe English independence is a price worth paying to stay in the EU.
Fellow co-director of the Future of England Survey, Professor Ailsa Henderson of The University of Edinburgh said: “These findings demonstrate that Brexit is putting the union under considerable strain regardless of whether we stay or go. Both sides are prepared to fundamentally rewrite the rules of politics as we know it to get what they want. Staying in the EU will likely decrease faith in the union. Brexit could well change its borders.
“Individuals might profess an attachment to the union, but Brexit has revealed most in Britain to be ambivalent unionists who now see it as expendable to get their own way on Brexit. Because this holds for both Leave and Remain voters, it confirms just how much the Brexit debate has polarised the electorates in Britain. These findings show that polarisation is reshaping how we argue with one another, and what we argue about, but could reshape the union as well.”
The survey also asked about additional consequences of Leaving or Remaining in the EU. Results include:
- Majorities in all three countries think that the UK will become substantially poorer as a result of Brexit. (52% in England, 52% in Wales, and 61% in Scotland). More than three quarters of Leave voters believe that it will be worth it (76% in England,76% in Scotland and 81% in Wales).
- EU membership is expected to affect Britain’s industries. The destruction of the UK’s farming industry is a widely anticipated consequence of Brexit – with 42% of English voters, 46% of Welsh and 53% of Scottish voters regarding this as likely if the UK leaves the EU. By contrast, 31% in Scotland, and 33% in both Wales and England believe that staying in the EU will likely lead to the destruction of the UK’s fishing industry. In either direction, Brexit partisans believe that the destruction of these industries would be worth it to get their own way on Brexit.