EU Referendum: Controls on movement of EU citizens key issue for majority of Britons

As David Cameron starts his effort to reform the European Union and get a better deal for Britain newly released Ipsos MORI polling reveals just how bound the concern of free movement of EU citizens is within the European debate.

EU Referendum: Controls on movement of EU citizens key issue for majority of Britons 

  • Two in three Britons have  little confidence in Cameron getting a good deal for Britain from European leaders
  • Restrictions on free movement of EU citizens could be key to referendum outcome
  • Pressure on public services, housing and benefits most cited reasons to implement restrictions on free movement of EU citizens

As David Cameron starts his effort to reform the European Union and get a better deal for Britain newly released Ipsos MORI polling reveals just how bound the concern of free movement of EU citizens is within the European debate.

The new survey, conducted online amongst 2,798 British adults between 26 June and 2 July, is the fourth wave of a unique longitudinal study interviewing respondents on their attitudes to immigration throughout and after the recent general election campaign.

In the survey we find:

  • Six in 10 (58%) believe there should be greater restrictions on free movement of EU citizens.  14% believe there should be no right to free movement between EU countries at all. 11% say that free movement of EU citizens should be kept in its current form and 5% say that there should be no restrictions at all.
  • Of those who want more restriction on free movement of EU citizens, seven in ten (72%) mention pressure on public services and six in ten (59%) cite people coming to claim benefits as their reason. Pressure on housing and overcrowding were also mentioned as key concerns (55% and 54% respectively). Few, however cite cultural reasons for restricting free movement including 21% who say EU migrants don’t integrate into British society, 20% because EU immigration raises crime rates while 14% think EU immigration dilutes British culture.
  • When considering the list of aims David Cameron is taking into the renegotiation, restricting benefit access to EU migrants proves to be the most popular, with 62% of the public saying this is important. This is followed by restricting immigration from countries that become new member states, which is seen as important by 48% of the public. Cameron’s aims outside of immigration are seen to be less important, with  38% supporting greater powers for national parliaments to block EU legislation, one in three (32%) seeing protecting UK financial markets from EU legislation as important and one in four (25%) who say allowing Britain to opt-out from forging an “ever closer union” with Europe is an important aim.
  • The survey also asked Britons how they would vote in a referendum on EU membership. In this instance 52% said they would vote for Britain to remain an EU member, 31% said they would vote to leave and 17% were unsure, although it is important to note that this survey was part of a larger longitudinal study conducted in June and July and does not necessarily reflect current vote preference on an EU referendum. However, one in five (20%) of those who said they would vote to leave in a referendum on the EU say they would change their mind and vote to remain a member if David Cameron achieved all of his aims. Three in five (60%) however would still vote to leave the EU while another one on five (19%) would become unsure how they would vote if the Prime Minister was successful.  Conservatives who would vote to leave in a referendum are the most likely to change their minds and vote to remain if Cameron achieves all his aims. One in three (29%) Conservatives would change their vote to remain a member.
  • But the public have little confidence in the Prime Minster getting a good deal for Britain from other European leaders. Two in three (66%) Britons say they are not very or not confident at all that he will get a good deal while three in 10 (28%) are either very or fairly confident that he will. David Cameron has stronger support from his own party, as 46% of Conservative voters say they are very or fairly confident he’ll get a good deal although, even here, half (51%) are not confident. Fifteen per cent of Labour voters have confidence in him getting a good deal (80% are not confident) and one in four (24%) Liberal Democrat voters have confidence in him (68% are not confident). UKIP voters have the least assurance in the Prime Minster with one in 10 (10%) having confidence in him achieving a good deal for Britain versus 88% who are not.

The ability to restrict free movement of people across Europe could be crucial to the referendum outcome.   When asked how the public would vote in the referendum if it was not possible to change the laws of the EU to impose greater controls on the free movement of people, the public become significantly more likely to say they’ll vote to leave.  The number of those who would vote to stay in the EU decreases by 16 points from 52% to 36%. Those wishing to leave the EU increases by 12 points from 31% to 43%, with the number of undecideds increasing from 17% to 21%.

Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of Ipsos Social Research Institute, said:

There has been a lot of interest in policy and politics on the extent to which the issues of Europe and immigration are becoming “fused” in people’s minds – and this newly released survey suggests that they are indeed closely linked.  It is immigration issues which are top of mind when people think about what the PM should be achieving – and this is only likely to have increased since the recent refugee crisis. That’s not to say that people want to pull up the drawbridge entirely – the majority are looking for greater control and restrictions, particularly around welfare benefit access, not a complete ban. 

 

Notes to editors

For this fourth wave of the longitudinal study, Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 2,798 British online adults aged 16+ years  between 26 June and 2 July, supported by funding from Unbound Philanthropy. Interviews were conducted on Ipsos’ online panel and results have been weighted by demographic factors to represent the British population. 

More insights about Public Sector

Society