How Does Post-Brexit Britain Wish To Exercise Its Sovereignty?

Lead Research Organisation: National Centre for Social Research
Department Name: Research Department

Abstract

One key feature of British politics during and since the referendum has been the strength of the division between those who voted Remain and those who backed Leave. The two sides have been inclined to take different views about what the UK's post-Brexit relationship with the EU should be. Now there is a possibility that they might take different stances about the choices that the UK now has to make as it takes on responsibility for those policy areas that are currently wholly or partly decided by the EU. If this were to be the case the polarisation - and intra-party dissensus - that has been a hallmark of recent British politics could continue well beyond Brexit itself.

However, using conventional survey methods to research public attitudes to post-Brexit policy choices is constrained by what to date has been a lack of public debate about the various options and trade-offs that will face policy-makers. This project will meet these constraints by using a deliberative approach to researching public attitudes, focusing on three areas of post-Brexit policy - on immigration, labour market regulation and food production and safety.

In particular, we will use an approach known as Deliberative Polling. Under this approach, a random sample of participants are given access to information and expertise about the poll's subject matter and take part in facilitated group discussions about the issues at stake charts. Participants' attitudes and knowledge are measured via a self-completion questionnaire both before and after the deliberation. As a result, the approach not only identifies whether the balance of public opinion changes in the wake of the deliberation, but also why and amongst which kinds of voters. This makes it possible to identify the arguments and considerations that are likely to prove persuasive as and when voters become better informed about a subject.

Using this approach, we will be able to ascertain the extent to which any prior differences of outlook between Remain and Leave voters are weakened or reinforced as a result of deliberation, and thus whether they are or are not likely to be perpetuated in future debates about public policy. At the same time, we will be able to inform policy-makers of the likely public reaction to the various policy choices that they are considering and advise the most effective way of presenting any particular policy option that they decide to pursue.

Deliberative polling has so far largely been conducted face to face. In this project, however, a face to face poll held at a central UK location will be preceded by both a pilot and a full deliberative poll undertaken online using video communication. Although conducted a year apart, the structure of the deliberation in the two exercises will be similar, thereby facilitating the first ever systematic comparison of the impact of video-enhanced online and face to face deliberation.

At each key stage, the project will produce briefings aimed primarily at non-academic audiences that outline its latest findings. The results of each poll will then be reported in greater depth in chapters published in the annual British Social Attitudes report and in presentations given to policy-makers. The full findings of the project will be reported in academic articles and in a book. The research will be guided throughout by an Advisory Committee of academics and policy-makers with a view to ensuring that the deliberation is balanced and secures the confidence of all stakeholders.

Planned Impact

The UK now has to develop new set of public policies across a wide range of areas where competence for making decisions has hitherto largely lain in the EU. This project will indicate where public opinion stands on a number of the key issues, both before and after deliberation, and will identify the likely key drivers of public opinion as the debate about these policy areas develops. In so doing we anticipate looking, in particular, at attitudes towards (a) immigration policy (b) labour market regulation and rights, and (c) food production and safety. These are all topics of widespread interest and public concern.

Thus, most immediately the project will be of interest to those with interest in and responsibility for the development and administration of public policy in these areas:

UK government ministers and civil servants
Government ministers and civil servants in the devolved administrations
MPs and Lords of all parties
Members of the devolved parliaments/assemblies
Relevant executive agencies, such as the Food Standards Agency
Think tanks, lobbying organisations, businesses and trade unions, including the CBI, TUC, NFU, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Migration Watch
Journalists with an interest in public policy
The interested public

In addition, overseas governments will also have an interest in some of the policy decisions that are made by the UK (and devolved) governments in these areas and thus the work of this project will also be of interest to diplomatic representatives from other countries, including not exclusively those from the EU and from the Commonwealth.

Public policy is, of course, never developed simply to reflect or to respond to public opinion. However, public policy is more likely to be effective if it is developed with an understanding of what may and may not be acceptable to voters. This is especially true of topics that are potentially highly contentious, as is the case for a number of the subjects about which the UK now has to make decisions. After all, the public's adverse reaction to the relatively high rates of net inward immigration experienced by the UK during the last 15 years has played a key role in the events that eventually led to the decision to leave the EU, contrary to the wish of the then UK government. Meanwhile one of the key requirements of any system of food safety is that it should secure the confidence of consumers, but debates about the safety of GM crops and, more recently, chlorinated chicken, continue and may well need to be addressed.

This project will provide policy makers and others with guidance as to which public policy stances on issues such as these might work with the grain of public opinion. Moreover, because the project will invite research participants to deliberate on some of the detail that policy makers will have to confront, the project will provide more detailed guidance about how the public might react to particular policy proposals than could be achieved via regular survey research. In addition, the project will help identify the arguments for or against a particular proposal that are likely to prove particularly persuasive in the eyes of the public. As a result, not only will policymakers be better equipped to identify options that are more likely to prove politically acceptable and to avoid proposals that might prove particularly contentious, but also secure guidance on how best to present policy so that it secures wider public acceptance.

That said, the project aims to inform rather than influence the decisions made and stances taken by policy makers and stakeholders. Its 'impact' will thus rest on the use made of the research rather than any particular policy outcome. However, the publicity attracted by and the interest shown in the work associated with Prof. Curtice's UK in a Changing Europe Senior Fellowship gives every reason to believe that stakeholders will wish to appraise themselves of the findings.
 
Description Remain and Leave voters disagree less in their attitudes towards food and consumer regulation than they do in their views about future immigration policy. Moreover, voters, including Leave supporters, are not necessarily opposed to the UK continuing to align with EU rules and regulations after Brexit. This certainly seems to be the position in respect of compensation for airline delays, and the cost of mobile phone calls made abroad. It also seems to be largely true of the rules on protected geographical indicators for food.

There is little evidence that voters want Britain's economy to be markedly less strongly regulated than at present. For example, there is widespread support for maintaining a ban on the sale of chlorinated chicken and hormone treated beef, and banning the sale of both single use plastics and incandescent light bulbs. A majority would welcome the introduction of a ban on the live export of animals.

Although support is lower than it was during the EU referendum, it is still the case that most voters, including many Remain supporters, believe that those who wish to migrate to Britain from the EU should have to apply to do so in the same way as someone from outside the EU - thereby rejecting the principle of freedom of movement.

However, voters are not necessarily in favour of some of the criteria that the UK government has proposed should be used in determine who should and who should not be allowed to migrate to the UK. The median voter thinks that the minimum income threshold both for someone who wishes to come to the UK and for a British citizen's spouse who wishes to live in the UK should be no more than £15K. A majority say that care workers should have high priority in determining who should be allowed to migrate to Britain.

In many instances, the balance of opinion towards post-Brexit policy did not change markedly after a representative sample of voters were brought together online to deliberate about immigration, food and consumer policy over a weekend.

However, there were signs that in some respect voters were inclined to become less liberal in their attitudes to immigration policy after deliberation. In particular support for requiring potential EU migrants to have to apply to come to the UK increased, while there was a fall in support for the proposition that there should be no minimum income threshold that migrants should have to satisfy. This pattern was especially evident among those whose responses to questions designed to tap their values would classify them as social liberals.

On the other hand, the tendency for voters to support food and consumer regulation became even stronger after deliberating. Opposition to the sale of chlorinated chicken and hormone treated beef increased, while opposition to the banning of incandescent light bulbs and vacuum cleaners with large electric motors fell.
Exploitation Route This research addresses some of the key policy decisions currently facing the UK government following the UK's withdrawal from the EU. In so far, as the UK's aim is to execute a popular 'mandate' provided by the outcome of the EU referendum, it might be argued that public preferences should be one of the considerations guiding that policy. Meanwhile, polling and survey work on the project's subject matter of the project is relatively thin on the ground.

In that spirit, the initial dissemination activity of the project focussed on presentations to civil servants who might have responsibility for advising ministers about post-Brexit public policy, and Commons clerks who support the work of relevant Select Committees. However, the UK government's focus in the second round of the Brexit talks on securing regulatory dealignment together with its focus on income and skill in determining post-Brexit immigration policy is not consistent with many of our research findings.The findings are also of relevance to many a lobbying and professional organisation with an interest in immigration or food and consumer regulation, with some of whom the project has interacted in the development of its deliberative materials.

The project has been a pioneer in the use of online deliberation, having conducted its first such exercise before the COVID19 pandemic. As a result, the research team had experience and skills that were in considerable demand in the wake of the pandemic when deliberative research could only be undertaken online. Consequently, the project's methodological approach has been presented at a number of professional conferences and seminars.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Government, Democracy and Justice,Retail,Other

URL https://whatukthinks.org/eu/future-of-britain/
 
Description The project has been a pioneer in conducting deliberative research online, having undertaken its first deliberative poll using Zoom in 2019, before the COVID19 pandemic. Following the COVID19 lockdown, our experience was in considerable demand as the social research community sought ways of being able to undertake deliberative and qualitative research in a socially distanced world. Our approach to undertaking such research has now been widely adopted.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Other
Impact Types Societal

 
Description A Deliberate Approach to Online 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Drawing on this project's experience with undertaking an online deliberative poll, article in professional newsletter on how deliberative research can be undertaken online in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.research-live.com/article/opinion/a-deliberate-approach-to-online/id/5069252
 
Description Brexit: Futures 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation at Univ of Glasgow Stevenson Lecture series.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/socialpolitical/research/politics/stevensontrust/newsandevents/headlin...
 
Description Brexit: Voters' Reactions and Hopes 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Three presentations by three of the reserach team on (1) deliberative polling on post-Brexit public policy (2) qualitative analysis of deliberation on post-Brexit public policy (3) current public attitudes towards the Brexit process
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://whatukthinks.org/eu/comment-analysis/analysis/
 
Description Deliberative Democracy - a way forward for the UK? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation, based on the experience of this project, on how deliberation can be undertaken online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.kcl.ac.uk/events/deliberative-democracy-a-way-forward-for-the-uk
 
Description Invited keynote presentation to Government Economic Service/Social Research Annual Conference on Public Attitudes towards Post-Brexit Public Policy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited presentation at Government Economic Service/Social Research Annual Conference on public attitudes towards post-Brexit public policy as uncovered by deliberatve polling.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation to Government Statistical Service on Public Attitudes towards Post-Brexit Public Policy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited keynote presentation at Government Statistical Service Annual Conference on public attitudes towards post-Brexit public policy as uncovered by deliberative polling.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://gss.civilservice.gov.uk/events/government-statistical-service-gss-conference-2019/
 
Description Presentation to House of Commons Committee Clerks, January 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited private presentation to Committee Clerks of the House of Commons on the impact of Brexit on voting in the 2019 election and attitudes towards post-Brexit public policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presenttaion at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on Public Attitudes towards Post-Brexit Public Policy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited presentation to Europe Academy of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, but open to civil servants from across Whitehall. Talk examined public attitudes to post-Brexit public policy as uncovered by deliberative polling.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Taking Deliberation Online 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Using the experience of this project in conducting a deliberative poll online, presentation at Social Research Association webinar on conducting online deliberation in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://the-sra.org.uk/Shared_Content/Events/Event_display.aspx?EventKey=TDO010720&WebsiteKey=9ee5e4...
 
Description What kind of post-Brexit immigration policy do voters want? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited presentation at RSS Migration Statistics User Forum
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://rss.org.uk/training-events/events/events-2021/other-events-(non-rss)/migration-statistics-us...