Major new report on Brexit and public opinion reveals a divided UK

PUBLISHED: 00:01 31 January 2018

A flag held by pro-EU protesters at a March for Europe rally against Brexit in London


The United Kingdom is a country profoundly divided by class, place, age and values, a comprehensive academic report on Brexit and public opinion reveals today.

The report by The UK in a Changing Europe, based at King's College London, has uncovered deep divisions in British society 19 months after the EU referendum which it warns could dramatically impact on politics in the years to come.

The report, written by some of the UK's leading academics, reveals:

  • A generational divide which the report says "has grown even more stark following the general election and is turning into a political cleavage",
  • New political identities as Leavers and Remainers view the world through different prisms,
  • A growing distinction between attitudes in towns and cities
  • Divisions between the individual nations of the UK over fundamental constitutional questions, and
  • The emergence of a "values divide" around different attitudes to diversity

Professor Anand Menon, director of The UK in a Changing Europe, said: “The referendum highlighted fundamental divisions in British society and superimposed a Leave-Remain distinction over them. This has the potential to profoundly disrupt our politics in the years to come.

“There’s little evidence to support the prime minister’s statement that ‘the country has come together after Brexit’.

"Instead she is presiding over a divided and polarised nation.”

The report highlights an emerging divide, those who thought equal opportunities for ethnic minorities had gone too far voting heavily for Leave and those who felt equal opportunities had not gone far enough much more likely to have voted Remain.

The report warns that the robust link between views about ethnic equality and votes in the EU referendum could be a sign of "an emergent values divide in the UK".

The 17-chapter, 56-page report is written by 27 academics and is the most comprehensive and authoritative analysis of Brexit and public opinion to date. It analyses the referendum, last year’s general election, emerging Brexit identities and the public’s views of the Brexit negotiations.

It includes several arguments why its authors think it is unlikely people will change their minds about leaving the EU for three reasons. Firstly, that people's views on EU membership are tied up with values that are entrenched and unlikely to shift. Secondly, that "confirmation bias" means both Leavers and Remainers ignore information which does not correspond with their values. And thirdly, that for many Leavers the attraction of Brexit was more identity politics than economic reasons.

The report's authors include John Curtice, Matthew Goodwin, Sara Hobolt, Rob Ford, Anand Menon and Maria Sobolewska. It can be downloaded here.

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