Britons Want to End Free Movement, Keep Bits of EU, Study Finds

  • Survey finds common ground between ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ voters
  • EU access to free trade, clean beaches, cheap calls supported

U.K. voters want to curb free movement of people from the European Union after Brexit while keeping many of the benefits of belonging to the bloc, a survey found.

As Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to trigger divorce talks on March 29, academics from the National Centre for Social Research found common ground on the terms for quitting the bloc between those who backed opposing sides in the 2016 referendum. While majorities backed limits on immigration, they also supported free trade with the EU and European regulations on water quality, compensation for flight delays and cheap phone calls.

“Many ‘Remain’ voters would like to see an end to the less popular parts of Britain’s current membership of the EU, while many ‘Leave’ voters would like to retain the seemingly more desirable parts,” the University of Strathclyde’s John Curtice, who led the research, said in an emailed statement. “This is perhaps typical of the pick-and-mix attitude to the EU that has characterized much of Britain’s relationship with the institution during its 44 years of membership so far.”

Treating EU migrants to Britain the same as those from outside the bloc was backed by 82 percent of “Leave” voters and 58 percent of “Remain” voters, according to phone and online interviews with 2,322 adults conducted between Feb. 2 and March 5. Both sides also recognize that such a policy would affect Britons in mainland Europe, with 86 percent of “Leave” voters and 54 percent of “Remain” voters agreeing that British citizens wanting to live in the EU should be treated the same way. No margin of error for the survey was specified.

Tory Views

At the same time, 88 percent of “Leave” voters and 91 percent of “Remain” supporters want to maintain free trade with the EU, something European leaders have said is impossible without free movement of workers. Support for both goals is most pronounced among backers of May’s Conservative Party, with 93 percent backing free trade with the bloc even as 81 percent want an end to free movement.

“The stance taken by the U.K. government of wanting to end freedom of movement but maintain free trade fits well with the views of most Conservative voters,” Curtice said. “But it also means they are the group that are most likely to be disappointed if they come to the conclusion that the government has failed to achieve that objective. Theresa May could be faced with political difficulties at home if she struggles to achieve her key objectives in Brussels.”

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