NEWS11 July 2019

Brexit creates political fault line in British identity

Brexit News Trends UK

UK – The UK has become more sharply divided in its attitudes towards Brexit since before the referendum, with ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ becoming the country’s new political and social fault line, the latest British Social Attitudes survey has found.

Big Ben and EU flag

Brexit is now a much stronger identifier than traditional party political affiliation, the annual NatCen research suggests, with more people identifying as a ‘remainer’ or a ‘leaver’ than as a strong supporter of any party.

Two in five ( 40%) respondents said they are a ‘very strong’ remainer or leaver, while a third ( 34%) had a ‘fairly strong’ identity.  Only 12% did not identify with either affiliation.

Political party affiliation, meanwhile, has been on the decline since 1987, with only 8% today stating that they are a ‘very strong’ supporter of a party, down slightly from 10% in 2017.   

Age continues to be a dividing factor when it comes to attitudes towards Brexit. Almost half ( 47%) of people aged 65 and over claim to be a ‘very strong’ remainer or leaver, compared to only 30% of those aged 18 to 24. Additionally, over a third ( 37%) of the 18-24 group either don’t identify with one side or the other in the Brexit debate, or claim they do ‘not very strongly’ – the case for only 21% of those aged 65 and over.

Among those aged 55 and over, support for leaving the EU is 21 percentage points higher in 2019 than it was before the referendum ( 49% compared to 28% in 2015 ). But for those aged 18 to 34, there has only been a seven-point increase ( 19% in 2019 compared to 11% in 2015 ).

Support for Brexit stayed at 49% among those aged 55 and over in the last year, but dropped slightly for those aged 18-34 ( 19% in 2018, 23% in 2017 ) and 35-54 ( 31% in 2018, 34% in 2017 ).

Strong remainers and leavers are also clearly divided in their views on the consequences of leaving the EU and what post-Brexit Britain will look like. While 85% of ‘very strong’ remainers believe the economy will be worse off as a result of Brexit, 71% of ‘very strong’ leavers think it will be better off.

And while almost three-quarters ( 74%) of ‘very strong’ remainers think Britain will have less influence in the world post-Brexit, only 6% of ‘very strong’ leavers agree, while over half ( 57%) believe that leaving will result in more influence for Britain.

Nancy Kelley, deputy chief executive of the National Centre for Social Research, said in the report: "Perhaps the most striking illustration of the power of identity in modern Britain has been the emergence of ‘leaver’ and ‘remainer’ as a new political and social fault line. These identities, which did not exist prior to the 2016 referendum, now command significantly stronger allegiance than traditional political parties.

"Public attitudes towards the next steps in the Brexit process will not be determined by a rational weighing of data on the economic and social consequences of the different possible relationships that Britain might have with the EU. Rather, people will look at the options through the partisan prism of these new identities, and will be influenced by the ability of traditional political parties to speak to them, something that has been graphically illustrated by the emergence of the Brexit Party."