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 from Brexit. The results show that 68% want to end free movement of people with other EU countries. 82% of Leavers and 58% of Remain voters want EU nationals in Britain to be treated in the same way of non-EU citizens. 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 British people moving to other EU countries 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 report. “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 are keen to maintain free trade with the EU. Overall, 54% agree that free movement of people should be allowed if this is necessary to that end. Also, only about a quarter want to end free healthcare for British citizens who are visiting another EU country.

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 compensation of 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.

It is also possible that the answers have been influenced by the debate about the EU in the past year and a half, as a Eurobarometer survey published in March 2016 showed different results. At that time, 59% of British respondents agreed that free movement brings economic benefits to the country and the figure was 7 percentage points higher than in 2012.

The results of the NatCen research, however, are in line with another poll carried out by YouGov between August and September 2016 in 12 European states (Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden). The UK was the only country where fewer than 50% viewed positively the right to live and work elsewhere in the EU. It was also the one with the lowest percentage believing open borders within the EU are a good thing (22%, followed by 24% in France). In contrast, it had the highest percentage of people thinking immigrants should not be entitled to social welfare 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 in France, Italy and Spain.

Based on the YouGov poll, the response to British 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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