- THE GUARDIAN - Apr 19, 2021 - Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent -
Research sheds fresh light on motivations and aspirations of typical Brexit voter in Britain
The notion that the typical Brexit supporter was a working-class voter “left behind” in a red-wall constituency or dilapidated seaside town has been upended by research that shows half of leave voters were comfortably well off.
They did not have huge expectations of “sunlit uplands” or economic gains but believed that leaving the EU was an opportunity to address a perceived loss of industry, community services and national pride.
The research, by UK in a Changing Europe, drew on workshops conducted by the NatCen Social Research in the summer of 2020 and will shed fresh light on the motivations and aspirations of the typical Brexiter in Britain and how they might adapt to the changed political landscape.
“An image of the left-behind leave voter has taken hold: a poorly educated inhabitant of a faded seaside town or the grim, post-industrial north. But we forget too easily that no place (or group of people) is wholly homogenous. Many people voted for Brexit even in the most pro-remain places; more than a million people in Scotland and 1.5 million in London voted leave,” the report, Comfortable Leavers, says.
It found that while it was true that many leavers faced sharp economic challenges, almost half were relatively well off.
A quarter of the leave vote could be categorised as “economically deprived, anti-immigration with monthly household income of less than £2,200 a month. A third of leave supporters were older working class, with an average age of 71.
However, almost half were “affluent Eurosceptics” who shared the domestic priorities of the poorer cohort – they wanted further investment in police, the NHS and care workers and “proper, secure work for high-quality domestic production, as well as apprenticeship in real jobs”, says the briefing paper.
As the workshops took place while the Brexit negotiations and pandemic were ongoing, all groups expected some initial economic turbulence. The more comfortable leave voters felt their own positions somewhat “sheltered them from the bumpy roads ahead” but were concerned about the impact of lack of opportunity in neighbouring communities.
“Many of the comfortable leavers liked where they lived, they spoke about access to green spaces, shopping malls and local amenities but were aware of areas close by where they saw problems of crime and antisocial behaviour, a lack of opportunities for young people and loss of local manufacturing industry. They believed that Brexit would free up funding for some of this investment,” the researchers report.
Their views on immigration were more nuanced than the leave narrative suggests and were “most scathing” about British people on benefits who refused to do the jobs migrants would do.
“The English are feral, and they were fed for years and years off, if you stubbed your toe you got disability living allowance for the rest of your life … The English need to be retrained that, to feed your family, if you have to go and scrub toilets … that’s what you do,” said one female from the west Midlands.
“Poverty was often linked to narratives of ‘scrounging’ and ‘laziness’, of poor role models and a ‘something-for-nothing’ culture,” says the report.
National pride was a strong identifier for comfortable leavers with little support for devolution.
“The expectations and hopes for the post-Brexit world among comfortable leavers show a nostalgic optimism that leaving the EU (and the pandemic) might be a catalyst for change, but a change that could restore industries, services and a sense of pride from an earlier era,” concludes the report.
NatCen’s qualitative research came from eight deliberative workshops involving 130 people, 73 of who voted leave, 55 who voted remain and two who did not vote.