Leave voters reject idea of expelling all EU nationals after Brexit, study finds

Leave and Remain voters have similar views on rights of EU citizens living in the UK

Jon Sharman
Tuesday 15 August 2017 10:18 BST
The joint study uncovered a phenomenon one researcher called 'losers' consent'
The joint study uncovered a phenomenon one researcher called 'losers' consent' (Reuters)

Voters who backed Leave in the EU referendum do not support the idea of expelling all EU nationals after Brexit, new research suggests.

Those who support withdrawal from Europe found common ground with Remain voters in rejecting the idea that all EU citizens should be forced to leave the UK after negotiations are concluded.

An innovative study by researchers at Oxford University and the London School of Economics (LSE) found the views of Remainers and Leavers, away from the sometimes vitriolic public debate, were not as far apart as had been thought.

Instead of asking directly whether participants would accept certain outcomes of Brexit — such as a specified level of immigration control or a given value for the divorce payment — the academics included a wide selection of propositions in a slew of potential scenarios ranging from hard to soft Brexit.

Under the study, a score of 50 per cent was considered neutral, with scores below meaning that a proposition was viewed negatively. Remain voters gave the idea of expelling all EU nationals from the UK a score of 29 per cent - making it the least popular of the scenarios answered by participants in the study. It was given a score of 42 per cent by Leave voters.

"We allowed those numbers to be revealed by people's choices," Dr Thomas Leeper, an associate professor in political behaviour at LSE, told The Independent. "Twenty-nine per cent of Remain voters would be willing to accept a [deal] that contained that feature, against a set of alternatives. They are not isolated preferences.

"That number is actually signifying that Remain voters are very favourable to the rights of EU citizens, but they're not so favourable as to oppose that outcome completely."

The study uncovered a phenomenon Dr Leeper called "losers' consent", meaning Remain voters appeared willing to accept features of a hard Brexit out of respect for the result of last June's referendum.

Figures shared with The Independent showed a convergence of opinion, rather than reflecting the often highly polarised public discourse, with voters' preferences in many areas falling closely together.

Leavers and Remainers felt similarly, if not necessarily very strongly, about trading terms, the divorce bill, paying for market access and the timeline for exiting the EU, with both camps accepting a degree of leeway on the final date, up to 2025.

Dr Leeper said: "People aren't regretting their vote choice, they're not regretting the decision of the people to leave. Even Remain voters are reasonably favourable towards outcomes that wouldn't necessarily be categorised as Remain positions by, perhaps, the media.

"We're also seeing an emergence of Leave and Remain as social identities."

In a head-to-head comparison, Remainers preferred hard Brexit to soft, the study of more than 3,000 people found. Leave voters were found to prefer "no deal" over hard Brexit, as did non-voters.

The phenomenon has been hinted at before. In May, YouGov coined the term "re-leavers" to describe people who had voted Remain but believed the Government had a duty to carry out the will of the 52 per cent of voters who wanted out of the EU.

It found that 68 per cent of the country now wanted Brexit carried out — 45 per cent who were Leavers and 23 per cent consenting Remainers.

The full LSE-Oxford study is due to be published later this year, following peer review.

NOTE: This article has been amended. The original headline read '29 per cent of Remain voters would accept expulsion of all EU nationals after Brexit, study suggests'. This was a mis-reading of the study, which has been in explained in full in this article, 'Do 29 per cent of Remainers really want to deport EU citizens?'

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