Posts Tagged ‘referendum’

Explaining support for Brexit among would-be MPs in the 2017 general election

Siim Trumm, Caitlin Milazzo, and Joshua Townsley use survey data to explore support for Brexit among 2017 parliamentary candidates. The findings reveal some interesting insights into politicians’ motivations for supporting Brexit. For example, candidates standing in seats with higher Leave support were not significantly more likely to vote Leave themselves. Instead, candidates’ views on immigration and democracy stand out as key determinants of their decision to vote Leave.

The United Kingdom’s decision in 2016 to leave the European Union marked a significant historical juncture and has defined politics since. The referendum result was also somewhat unexpected, leading to several studies exploring the question of who supported Brexit. Most of these have, however, focused on voters.

We conducted a study to explore the extent of support for Brexit among parliamentary candidates and the factors that drive it. What did we expect? Of course, there should be clear differences along party lines, with Conservative and UKIP candidates more likely to support Brexit than their Labour and Liberal Democrat opponents. But beyond this, we might also expect some of the same factors that drive Leave versus Remain divide among voters to be at play among politicians. We might, therefore, expect support for Brexit to be stronger among male candidates, older candidates, and those who have an occupational background in manual work. Brexit support might also be higher among candidates who hold stronger British identity and are more concerned about immigration. We also expected candidates who seek to represent areas with higher levels of support for Brexit to be more likely to support Brexit themselves.

We analysed data from the 2017 British Representation Study to test our expectations. Our analysis includes responses from 872 candidates who stood in the 2017 election. The sample is broadly representative of all 2017 candidates in terms of partisanship, nation, and electoral performance.

We ran a series of logistic regression models to predict Leave support among candidates. Table 1 presents the predicted probabilities (in effect, the likelihood of a candidate supporting Leave based on a particular characteristic, while the other characteristics are held constant) for candidates’ likelihood of voting Leave, to illustrate the findings of our models. The first characteristic, for instance, shows that the probability of voting Leave is 24% among candidates who consider immigration-related issues to be the most important problem facing the country (versus 8.6% among those who do not).

So, what explained candidates’ support for Leave? Interestingly, we find that candidates’ gender, age, occupational background, and incumbency status have no systematic effect on their likelihood of voting Leave or Remain. This appears to contrast with what we know about how voters broke for Leave versus Remain. We also find that, after controlling for all other variables, candidates who stood in constituencies with stronger Leave support were not significantly more likely to support Brexit themselves. This, again, reinforces the narrative that would-be MPs were somewhat ‘out of touch’ with their voters.

Elsewhere, we found similarities. Like voters, candidates were more likely to support Brexit if they considered immigration to be the main problem facing the country and thought negatively about its cultural impact. Candidates who believed that Brexit would be positive for the UK’s economy and democracy, and were more critical about the state of EU democracy, were also more likely to be Leavers than those who did not hold such views.

Interestingly, we can also compare the pre-referendum voting intention and the actual vote choice for 442 candidates by combining survey data from the 2015 and 2017 British Representation Study. Whereas polling of voters suggests that there was quite a bit of fluidity in public opinion during the 12 months leading up to the EU referendum, this was not the case among politicians. Table 2 shows that only 12 (out of 442) candidates changed their mind in the run up to the 2016 referendum, constituting only 2.7% of all candidates we have this information for. An overwhelming majority of candidates (97.3%) remained unchanged in their vote choice. Unsurprisingly, the most common option was candidates who intended to vote Remain indeed casting their ballot for Remain (363 candidates, or 82.1%). Meanwhile, 67 (15.2%) candidates who intended to vote for Leave do so. In other words, there were very few candidates who switched their voting choice in the immediate run up to the EU referendum.

There are three broad conclusions arising from our study. First, the evidence reaffirms the narrative in British politics that politicians were ‘out of touch’ with voters when it came to supporting Brexit in 2016. They were much less supportive of Brexit than the electorate as a whole and this gulf was not just between voters and the political elites at the very top of the political ladder, but between voters and the ‘political class’ more broadly.

Second, support for – and opposition to – Brexit was quite stable among would-be MPs. While support for Leave varied between politicians with contrasting political beliefs and perceptions of immigration, we did not find evidence that many candidates switched sides in the run up to the EU referendum.

Finally, the findings reveal some interesting differences and similarities between the motivations for Leave support among politicians and voters. Contrary to our expectations, we find that some of the factors that drove voter support for Brexit (e.g., age, gender, occupational background) do not have the same effects among candidates. But, just like voters, more optimistic views of how Brexit was expected to impact British democracy and economy, as well as attitudes on immigration, are associated with greater likelihood of voting Leave.


Note: The above draws on the authors’ published work in Political Studies.

About the Authors

Siim Trumm is Assistant Professor in Politics at the University of Nottingham. His areas of research include British politics, party politics, parliaments and legislative behaviour, and electoral campaigns.



Caitlin Milazzo is Associate Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham. Her areas of research include electoral behaviour, British politics, and political campaigning.



Joshua Townsley is a Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham. He researches electoral campaigns and political behaviour.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: by Parker Johnson on Unsplash.

Business cannot prepare for a no-deal Brexit in the middle of a pandemic

Carolyn Fairbairn is director general of the Confederation of British Industry.

Away from this unparalleled health and economic crisis, Brexit talks continue from a distance.

For many firms facing unrelenting stress from COVID-19, these talks have been out of sight, though not quite out of mind. Their total focus is on immediate survival and recovery. But as more businesses take tentative steps to reopen slowly and safely, every decimal point of economic growth is being fought for. They expect that same spirit to be replicated when Brexit talks resume Tuesday.

The signals so far are not encouraging. Both the U.K. and the EU negotiating teams have rigid mandates and are following them to the letter. Negotiation by videoconference doesn’t allow for the kind of side-line conversations that normally help smooth differences in trade talks.

Unless the dynamic shifts, it looks like both sides will stay trapped in a holding pattern, with no trade deal a real possibility at the end of the year, when the transition period is scheduled to end. For businesses, jobs and economic confidence in this most challenging of years, this would be a shocking outcome.

With 40 percent of the economy closed, 8 million people in furlough and not working, the U.K. is already in recession.

For many firms fighting to keep their heads above water through the crisis, the idea of preparing for a chaotic change in EU trading relations in seven months is beyond them. They are not remotely prepared. Faced with the desperate challenges of the pandemic, their resilience and ability to cope is almost zero.

With 40 percent of the economy closed, 8 million people in furlough and not working, the U.K. is already in recession. Stockpiles that were built up in preparation for a no-deal outcome in March, October and December last year have been used to plug supply shortages created by the pandemic, while half of all manufacturers are having difficulty reconnecting their supply chains.

Many businesses, especially smaller ones, have burned through cash reserves they would have otherwise used for rainy days. One logistics firm would need to hire 300 new border officials starting in June to prepare for a no-trade deal Brexit, and are asking whether they should do this — and how this can possibly be a sensible use of their stretched resources.

Take one of the country’s beauty companies. Department stores and salons have been closed; sales have disappeared. Without a sensible arrangement on EU-U.K. regulation and tariffs, they face new costs into the millions of doing business in the U.K. Meanwhile the cost of producing shampoos and hair dyes has increased because social distancing — while essential — means lower productivity on the factory floor. For them, the price of a bad EU outcome is that they may no longer have a sustainable business.

Before COVID-19, the U.K. led the world in professional services trade, with the country’s auditors, accountants and architects landing business across the globe. But services trade has collapsed, with company surveys showing the greatest fall in all measures since records began.

Perhaps by the end of the year these companies will be climbing back onto their feet. However, an abrupt introduction of restrictions on trade and movement with the EU at that point would be a hammer blow.

The net impact would be higher unemployment at a time when we will be fighting for every job. We have forgotten what unemployment in the many millions feels like — we thankfully haven’t experienced it since the 1980s. The regions that would be hardest hit are the least resilient and most disadvantaged. When large numbers of people are out of work, every single job matters.

So what is the answer? Negotiators promised progress on fishing and financial services by the end of the month. Delivering on those promises would instill confidence urgently needed by businesses operating within interconnected supply chains.

The desire for no further delay is understandable. After all, the U.K. made its choice in the Brexit referendum nearly four years ago now, and it is not clear extending the transition period would necessarily bring a better deal in the future.

But while it may be tempting for some to down tools and accept that WTO terms are the best either side can hope for, there are many livelihoods and businesses at stake. The current air of resignation surrounding the Brexit talks must be shaken off. This is why a new dynamic and determination on both sides is so essential.

In recent months, political leaders across Europe have shown that what previously may have been thought of as impossible is not. A good deal with the EU will be just one strand of the U.K.’s national recovery from the pandemic, but it will be one of the most important for the future of our economy, jobs and livelihoods.

Are you a professional following the impact of Brexit on your industry? Brexit Transition Pro, our premium service for professionals, helps you navigate the policy, and regulatory changes to come. Email [email protected] to request a trial.

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