Public wrong on key facts around Brexit and impact of EU membership

The British public are wrong on key facts around Brexit and the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Public wrong on key facts around Brexit and impact of EU membership

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
  • Gideon Skinner Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
Get in touch

The British public are wrong on key facts around Brexit and the UK’s relationship with the EU, a new study by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, in partnership with Ipsos MORI and the UK in a Changing Europe, finds.

The study takes findings from the recent government-commissioned Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report and tests these against public perceptions, alongside other facts:

  • EU immigrants’ contribution to public finances: Only 29% of the public correctly think that immigrants from European countries pay £4.7bn more in taxes than they receive in welfare benefits and services. Leave supporters are least likely to correctly identify that this is the case (16%) and most likely to wrongly think that European immigrants contribute less than they take out (42%).
  • Crime: 56% of the public and 75% of Leave supporters think that European immigration has increased crime levels, when evidence from the MAC report finds no link.
  • Healthcare: 39% of the public and 53% of Leave supporters think that European immigration has led to a decline in the quality of healthcare services in the UK, when evidence from the MAC report shows this isn’t the case.
  • £350m claim: Two-thirds of the public (67%) have heard of the claim that the UK sends £350m a week to the EU, and 42% of these believe it is true, despite it being labelled a “misuse of statistics” by the UK Statistics Authority.  
  • EU investment: The public hugely underestimate how much of our investment comes from EU countries: the average guess is 36%, when the actual figure was 63% in 2016.
  • Unemployment: Half of the public (47%) and 61% of Leave supporters believe that unemployment among lower-skilled workers has increased as a result of European immigration, despite the MAC report concluding there is “little or no impact”.
  • Immigration levels: People overestimate the proportion of the UK population that is from an EU country by a factor of almost three, thinking it’s 16% when it’s only 6%.  

But there are three facts the public are much more accurate on:

  • They guess that 40% of UK exports go to EU countries, when the actual figure is 43%.
  • The largest group (47%) correctly identify that European immigration has increased house prices.
  • They correctly think that European immigration has had relatively little impact on unemployment among highly skilled workers and the wage levels of both lower-skilled and higher-skilled workers.

Public wrong on key facts around Brexit and impact of EU membership

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

We have had over two years and seemingly endless discussion of our relationship with Europe since the EU referendum – but still the public get a huge amount wrong.
The best available evidence from a government-commissioned report is that the impact of immigration on our public finances, crime rates and health services is positive or neutral. But the perception among large proportions of the population is that the EU immigration has increased crime, taken money out of the system and decreased the quality of health services.
These misperceptions are not all about us being misled or our own ignorance of the facts – they are more emotional than that. We exaggerate what we worry about, so what we get wrong is as much a reflection of our concerns. Attempting to change people’s views of Brexit just with a more evidence-based description won’t be enough, and misses a large part of the point. The hugely varied views of these realities lay bare how differently different groups of the population see our relationship with the EU, and how ingrained and difficult it will be to find common ground.

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

The evidence here underlines the scale of the challenge facing those interested in improving public knowledge about, and understanding of, key policy issues. Overcoming misperceptions is a necessary and urgent task, and one that is far more challenging that many assume”

Technical Note

  • Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 2,206 adults aged 18-75 across the UK. Interviews were conducted online between 28 September and 3 October 2018. Data are weighted to the profile of the population.
  • The Migration Advisory Committee’s report, EEA migration in the UK, is available. Relevant quotes from the report are listed below:
    • “In 2016/17, EEA migrants as a whole are estimated to have paid £4.7bn more in taxes than they received in welfare payments and public services.”
    • “… migration does not impact crime levels”.  
    • “… there is no evidence that migration has reduced the quality of healthcare”.
    • “… we found that migrants have no or little impact on the overall employment and unemployment outcomes of the UK born workforce”.
  • View findings from another wave of this study looking at the public’s predictions for Brexit and the impact of leaving the EU.
  • More information is available on the King's Policy Institute website.

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
  • Gideon Skinner Ipsos Public Affairs, UK

More insights about Culture