Survey: Brits want free movement of goods and services, not of people

A new survey reveals the majority of British people would like to keep free movement of goods and services with the rest of the European Union, but end free movement of people. The views are shared among Leave and Remain voters, albeit in different proportions.

The survey was carried out between February and March 2017 by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and involved 2,322 people. The aim was to understand what UK voters expect out of Brexit. The results show that 68% want to end free movement of people with other EU countries. 82% of Leave voters and 58% of Remainers would want EU nationals in Britain to be treated in the same way as non-EU migrants. 77% of Leavers and 51% of Remainers don’t want EU nationals to be able to claim any welfare benefits in the country and an even larger proportion – 86% of Leavers and 54% of Remainers – think prospective British migrants to the EU should be treated as non-EU migrants too.

“Voters, it seems, appreciate that ending the automatic right of EU citizens to come to the UK to live and work also means that British citizens will no longer be able to do the same in the EU,” says the study. “While there may be widespread support for allowing EU citizens already resident in the UK to stay here, it cannot be assumed that the public necessarily believe that those EU citizens should retain all the rights, such as access to some welfare benefits, that they currently enjoy.”

At the same time, 88% of Leave voters and 91% of Remain supporters want to maintain free trade with the EU. When asked about specific EU regulations, a majority of both camps expressed a desire to maintain some of the current EU laws. 67% of Leavers and 83% of Remainers, for example, want the UK to keep EU regulations on water quality at beaches; 67% of Leave voters and 80% of Remainers want to maintain EU rules that limit the cost of calls made while abroad; 64% of Leavers and 77% of Remainers support those on compensating passengers in case of flight delays.

The majority of people surveyed also think the UK should continue participating in EU-wide university research programmes and making related contributions to the EU budget.

“This is perhaps typical of the pick and mix attitude to the EU that has characterised much of Britain’s relationship with the institution during its 44 years of membership so far,” said Prof. John Curtice, author of the report. “The stance taken by the UK government of wanting to end freedom of movement but maintain free trade fits well with the views of most Conservative voters. But it also means that they are the group that are most likely to be disappointed if they were to come to the conclusion that the government has failed to achieve that objective.”

Based on the research, 54% of respondents think the UK should allow people’s free movement if this is necessary to ensure free trade. Only about a quarter supports the end of free healthcare for British citizens who are visiting another EU country.

It remains to be seen how the formulation of questions and the debate about the EU in the past year and a half have influenced the answers. According to a Eurobarometer survey published in March 2016, 59% of the UK respondents agreed that free movement brings economic benefits to the country, and this figure was 7 percentage points higher than in 2012.

The results of the NatCen research, however, are in line with a poll carried out by YouGov between August and September 2016 in 12 European countries (Great Britain, Holland, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden). Among these, the UK was the only one where fewer than 50% considered the right to live and work in other EU countries a positive thing. It was also the one with the lowest percentage believing open borders within EU states are good (22%, followed by 24% in France). In contrast, it showed the highest percentage of people thinking immigrants should not be entitled to social welfare benefits, unless they have paid income tax for at least 4 years (66%, followed by 52% in Italy). Yet, 67% said there should be free trade of goods and services within the European Union, a higher proportion than France, Italy and Spain.

The polls show the majority of Brits consider the European Union merely as an economic entity, forgetting that peace and integration are at the heart of the European project. If the results reflect the real national sentiment, the risk is that Britons will be disappointed by the Brexit negotiations. The YouGov poll shows the response to their desirata from people of other EU countries is unlikely to be positive.

It has been suggested that the next British government may seek a free trade deal with the European Union, but without any right for EU citizens to live and work in Britain. Which of the following best reflects your view? (%)

The remaining EU countries should not agree any free trade deal with Britain at all 6 14 10 14 31 18 19 16 12 14 22 15
The remaining EU countries should agree to a free trade deal with Britain, but only in exchange for them continuing to allow EU citizens to live and work in Britain 29 47 50 54 39 51 52 51 52 55 51 40
The remaining EU countries should agree to a free trade deal with Britain without requiring them to give EU citizens the right to live and work in Britain 36


13 21 10 8 9 9 18 16 12 10 17
Don’t know 29 27 19 22 22 22 20 15 20 19 18 27

Source: YouGov.


Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.

Photo: Pixabay.

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