In the 2016 Brexit referendum, the United Kingdom as a whole chose to Leave the European Union (EU) by a narrow margin: 51.9%–48.1% of those who voted. There was, however, a much more decisive 7-point margin in favour of Leave (53.4%–46.6%) in England. Given that it is home to 84% of the United Kingdom’s population, the vote to leave in England outweighed substantial Remain majorities. Brexit was not just made in England, but Englishness was also a significant driver of the choice for Leave. This paper asks why the commitment to leave the EU was so strong in England. From earlier work, authors suggest that English national identity is a cluster point for other attitudes and concerns. These include hostility to European integration, the sense of absence of political voice, concern about immigration, and support for parties of the right.
The Leave majority recorded in England was decisive in determining the UK-wide referendum result. Brexit was made in England. We take this as a prompt to challenge the conventional Anglo-British mindset that animates most studies of ‘British politics’ and has shaped public attitudes research on the United Kingdom. We explore the persistence of distinctive Eurosceptic views in England and their relationship to English national identity prior to the referendum. We then model referendum vote choice using data from the Future of England Survey. Our analysis shows that immigration concerns played a major role in the Brexit referendum, alongside a general willingness to take risks, right-wing views, older age, and English national identity. Therefore, Brexit was not just made in England, but Englishness was also a significant driver of the choice for Leave.
How Brexit was made in England
Ailsa Henderson, Charlie Jeffery, Dan Wincott, Richard Wyn Jones
First Published October 4, 2017
The British Journal of Politics and International Relations