Five years on, Brexit – and the forces underlying it - continues to shape public opinion

Five years after Britain voted to leave the European Union, a new report from Ipsos looks at how Britain continues to be divided into distinct groups with divided views about how Brexit is going and on their underlying values.

The author(s)
  • Kelly Beaver MBE Chief Executive, UK and Ireland
  • Gideon Skinner UK Head of Political Research
  • Dylan Spielman Public Affairs
Get in touch

From Liberal Remainers to Traditionalist Leavers, we compare the contrasting views of these groups on how Brexit is going and Britain’s ongoing relationship with the EU.  The report also reminds us that just as many people sit in the middle.  Politically diverse, these ‘middle’ groups have much less strong Brexit identities, and tend to be less polarised in their views towards both sides.

Sevemn Brexit Tribes

Stronger Remain and Leave supporters are also both divided themselves into two groups.  Remain supporters split into more culturally liberal, internationalist Remainers and more moderate, pragmatically motivated Remainers.  While Leave supporters split into more culturally conservative Leavers and more economically right-wing, globalist Leavers. 

For example, there are differences by economic and social values:

  • 64% of Liberal Remainers agree that ‘political correctness’ is actually a good thing compared with 16% of Anxious Remainers.
  • 70% of Traditionalist Leavers and 60% of Anxious Remainers think that things were better in the past compared with 32% of Globalist Leavers and 11% of Liberal Remainers.
  • 56% of Globalist Leavers think having a mix of people in the area makes it a more enjoyable place to live compared with just 14% of Traditionalist Leavers.
  • 59% of Liberal Remainers and 55% of Globalist Leavers think that globalisation is good for Britain, compared with 31% of Traditionalist Leavers and 46% of Anxious Remainers.
  • 91% of Liberal Remainers think migration has had a positive impact on Britain, as do 57% of Anxious Remainers, 43% of Globalist Leavers, and 12% of Traditionalist Leavers.

The groups also differ in their attitudes to Brexit:

  • Personally, most Britons have not noticed an impact on their daily lives as a result of Brexit (59% say it has made no difference).  But a majority of Liberal and Anxious Remainers say that Brexit has had a negative impact (69% and 59% respectively).
  • The groups have different views in what they see as the most positive and negative outcomes of Brexit.  A majority (62%) of Liberal Remainers say that there has been no positive outcome of Brexit, while around half of Anxious Remainers can see some benefits.  While both groups emphasise the end of freedom of movement and increased trade barriers as negative outcomes of Brexit, ending freedom of movement is a particular issue for Liberal Remainers (54% mention this as a downside).
  • Meanwhile, gaining control over Britain’s laws and regulations is seen as a benefit by both pro-Brexit groups (53% and 41% respectively), but Traditionalist Leavers are also more likely to emphasise control over immigration and borders (43%), while Globalist Leavers are more likely to appreciate the ability to make independent international trade agreements (42%).
  • A majority of the other three ‘middle’ Brexit groups can see both positive and negative outcomes of Brexit.
  • Around two-thirds of Liberal Remainers and Traditionalist Leavers have a very strong Brexit identity, compared with about two in five Anxious Remainers and Globalist Leavers.  Among the other groups this falls even further, with just 12% of the Young Middle Britain, 7% of the Politically disengaged and 24% of the Entrepreneurial Young groups feeling a very strong Brexit identity.

Ben Page, CEO of Ipsos, uses our data for i news here.

Gideon Skinner, Head of Political Research at Ipsos, said:

Five years on from the referendum vote, Britain’s tribes of Brexit can still be seen in public opinion.  But the research shows that we can take a more sophisticated view, and not simply assume that just because people are on the same side of the argument that their views are all the same.  Partly this reflects the differences in social and economic values that were part of the underlying forces behind Brexit, with some Remainers more liberal and internationalist than others, and on the Leave side different visions for Brexit: one which is more culturally conservative and concerned about immigration control, another which is more globalist and eager to explore Brexit’s economic opportunities. 

But while the potential for Brexit to cause polarisation between the extremes continues, we can’t forget the middle ground, where Brexit identities are felt much less strongly, and where people can see both sides of the argument.  Looking ahead, there is still room for public judgements about Brexit to move in either direction.  The UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme is seen as an example where Britain has outperformed Europe, but there are also concerns the other side, including Brexit’s impact on food prices and key industries such as agriculture and automotive.  This all suggests we haven’t seen the end of the debate just yet.

Technical note

Ipsos interviewed a representative sample of 2,385 British adults aged 16+. Interviews were conducted online from 12th to 15th March 2021. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.

The author(s)
  • Kelly Beaver MBE Chief Executive, UK and Ireland
  • Gideon Skinner UK Head of Political Research
  • Dylan Spielman Public Affairs

More insights about Public Sector