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What is Brexit worth?
14 May, 2018

Leavers’ answers vary

About a third of Leave voters would be willing to make large financial sacrifices for a Brexit that cut immigration. Another third would not make any sacrifice. We have to be flexible in our messaging, writes London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg.

Immigration is still the biggest issue for Leave voters in Brexit negotiations. “Britain having control over immigration” topped the list of Brexit desirables in a January 2018 (polling date) Yougov poll.

In September 2016, Professor Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck asked Leave voters what they would personally pay in order to cut EU immigration. One third said they would pay 5% of their personal income to cut immigration to zero. One third said they would not be willing to pay anything. The remaining third said they would pay smaller amounts of their income in order to achieve smaller reductions in EU immigration.

A July 2017 poll by Yougov asked Leave voters whether they would regard significant damage to the economy as a price worth paying for Brexit. 61% said yes. Asked whether they would be willing to see a family member lose their job as a price of Brexit, the yes figure fell to 39%, the same as no (38%).

The two surveys suggest that a third of Leave voters would be willing to make a serious personal financial sacrifice to obtain the non-financial benefits of Brexit and another third would not be willing to make any sacrifice.

One should not read too much into these findings. Hypothetical questions get low-grade answers. They probably set out the upper bound of what people would pay.

Much would depend on how these voters perceive the costs and effects of Brexit when the deal is announced. For example, the government might do a deal which makes people worse off, but people might not believe it. The same January 2018 YouGov poll showed that only 8% of Leave voters thought Britain would be worse off after Brexit. Some individuals will do well after Brexit even if the country as a whole is worse off.

Moreover we need to be careful how to judge people. Many Remainers were horrified by what they saw as the callousness revealed by the July 2017 poll: elderly Leave voters sacrificing the jobs of their children. But people have always prioritised things other than money. We see as heroes those who sacrificed their lives for freedom in war and occupation. We have to be careful not to despise the sincerity of Leave voters.

Implication for campaigning

Going on about the economy will just confirm the views of a third of Leave voters. It will reinforce their view that the EU should just be a common market.

But for a third or more of Leave voters, the prospect of serious personal financial harm might well turn them off Brexit. The key is to make it real to them even though they do not expect there to be any harm. Perhaps, rather than offering them a barrage of statistics and experts, one could ask them questions about how they think Brexit will work – some suggestions here.



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