Global Britain: Identity and Britain's influence in the world

Half think that Brexit has harmed Britain’s standing in the world – and a quarter of those think that this damage is irreversible

The author(s)

  • Suzanne Hall Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
  • Cameron Garrett Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
  • Gideon Skinner Head of Political Research
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A new survey finds just over half the public (54%), including three in 10 (29%) Leave supporters, think Brexit has harmed Britain’s standing in the world. 

But half (52%) of those who say it has been harmed think it can recover, while one in four (24%) think it is irreversible.

The online survey among adults aged 16-75 by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, Ipsos MORI and the UK in a Changing Europe also looks at the public’s sense of identity, their views on the impact of Brexit on Britain’s relationship with other countries, and their priorities for future international relationships.

Britain’s standing and influence in the world

  • Three in 10 (29%) Leave voters say Brexit has harmed Britain’s standing in the world, while over a third (36%) say it has strengthened it. By contrast, eight in 10 (84%) Remain voters say it has been harmed, and only 5% say strengthened.
  • Remain voters are three times as likely as Leave voters to say any harm is irreversible (31% vs 9%). Labour supporters are twice as likely as Conservative supporters to say the same (31% vs 16%).
  • The number of people who say Britain should try to “punch above its weight” in world affairs has declined by 13 percentage points in three years: from 53% in 2016 to 40% in 2019.
  • Almost twice as many think Britain needs to be open to the rest of the world than to protect itself from it (41% vs 23%).

Identity

  • Britons are most likely to identify with their home nation (62%), Great Britain (57%) or local area (42%). Both Leave and Remain voters identify strongly with these identities, although there is a 10 percentage-point difference in the extent to which they identify with their home nation (Leave: 70% v Remain: 60%).
  • The main difference is Remain voters have additional supranational identities – they are more than five times as likely as Leave voters to identify with Europe (56% vs 10%), and are more likely to identify with the Western world (20% vs 13%) and the “global community” (26% vs 7%).

Impact of relationships with other countries

  • A plurality (and often a majority) of Leave and Remain voters think that Britain’s international relationships have a positive impact on Britain’s economy (L: 56%; R: 50%), defence and security (L: 48%; R: 49%), and society and culture (R: 51%; L: 45%).
  • But Leave and Remain voters disagree most on the impact of these relationships on their own life, with four in 10 (40%) Remain voters saying the impact is positive, compared with three in 10 (29%) Leave voters.

Priorities for future relationships with other countries

  • Three-quarters (77%) of the public think maintaining a close relationship between Britain and the EU will be important after Brexit, but fewer – half (52%) – think such a relationship is likely.
  • Leave voters have more confidence than Remain voters that Britain will have a close relationship with the EU post-Brexit – six in 10 (61%) think such a relationship is likely, compared with half (48%) of Remain supporters.
  • But Leave voters think such a close relationship is less important: six in 10 (62%) say it’s important, compared with over in nine in 10 (94%) Remain voters. 
  • The public are supportive of the aims behind the government’s “Global Britain” agenda, with half (53%) in favour of it, and only 7% against it. But 46% of those who support the “Global Britain” agenda are not confident it will be achieved.
  • The public’s top three priorities for Britain’s relationships with other countries are striking trade agreements (46%), working with others to prevent and detect crime and terrorism (42%) and protecting the environment (32%), while they are less concerned about supporting other countries through foreign aid (5%) and freedom of movement (7%).

Professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute, said:

These findings show there is concern about Britain’s reputation and future on the world stage in light of Brexit. They also show that Brexit has revealed new fault lines in society which define people’s sense of self, with big differences in the extent to which Remain and Leave voters see themselves as having international identities. Brexit is now tied up with people’s perceptions of not only Britain, but of themselves too.

Kelly Beaver, Managing Director of Ipsos MORI’s Social Research Institute, said:

“With half of the public thinking that Brexit has harmed Britain’s standing in the world, this study highlights the public’s priorities for rebuilding our reputation with the international community – primarily through trade, co-operation on security and the environment. It also sheds further light on the very deep divisions between the views of Remain and Leave voters – but shows as well that Remain and Leave are not monolithic blocs – there are differences within them too, with some Remainers more Europhile than others, and some Leavers more globalist than others. Reconciling these very different outlooks will be a considerable challenge for whoever the next Prime Minister is.” 

Professor Anand Menon, Director of the UK in a Changing Europe, said:

“The idea of ‘Global Britain’ has been a central, if underdeveloped, element of the government’s approach to defining a role for the country post-Brexit. Given this, it is important to know what the public think about the issue, and this polling casts a fascinating light on what the British people think the term does and should entail.”

More insights from this study are available from Kings College London.
 

Technical note

  • The survey polled 1,100 adults aged 16-75 in Great Britain including adults aged 18-75 who voted Remain in 2016 EU referendum (465), voted Leave (432), Conservative supporters aged 18-75 (231), Labour supporters (290), 5-9 April 2019. Where percentages do not sum to 100 this may be due to computer rounding, the exclusion of “don’t know” categories, or multiple answers.
  • Data are weighted to the profile of the population. 

The author(s)

  • Suzanne Hall Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
  • Cameron Garrett Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
  • Gideon Skinner Head of Political Research

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