People want the UK to remain in the single market, research suggests

Research across the East of England finds anger and anxiety over Brexit, and a broad consensus on single market access

People want the UK to strike a compromise deal with the EU similar to the European Economic Area’s ‘Norway model’, new qualitative research by University of Cambridge academics has found.

The research, which canvassed opinion from hundreds of people across the East of England by Professor Catherine Barnard and Dr Amy Ludlow, from Cambridge’s Faculty of Law, found many participants wanted full single market access with no free movement or payment to the EU – a position the EU rejects.

However, when people were presented with four current viable options – EU membership, European Economic Area (EEA), Customs Union and ‘hard Brexit’ (i.e. non-membership of the Single Market) – they recognised the need for compromise, and reached an overall consensus that a deal closer to the EEA ‘Norway model’ might be best, at least in the short term.

Professor Barnard, who is also a senior fellow of The UK in a Changing Europe, said: “The EEA option was consistently seen by Leave and Remain voters alike to be an acceptable compromise that allows limits to freedom of movement and reduces the UK’s financial contribution to the EU. People wanted full access to trade in goods and services with the EU.

“Remodelling the UK’s relationship along lines similar to the EEA was frequently described as a ‘rebalancing’. There was an almost universal desire among the study’s participants for EU citizens who are economically active or want to study in the UK to be able to continue to come.”

The researcher’s report shows people are feeling angry and anxious following the EU referendum. It highlights the disappointment people still hold at the conduct of politicians on both sides during the referendum campaign.

People expressed regret about the sense of division caused by Brexit, while some reported feeling “embarrassed or awkward” in their relationships with EU nationals. There was also significant anxiety among participants about what might come next, with some describing an “eerie quietness… like the calm before the storm”.

“We found anxiety, but also resentment,” said Barnard. “Many young people, including those in prominent Leave-voting areas, expressed anger at the referendum, and a result they felt they would be living with for the rest of their lives.

“Despite Theresa May’s claim that the country is coming together, the discussions we had with people across the east of England revealed deep wounds and a divided society, generationally and geographically.”

The researchers found a serious, often fundamental, lack of knowledge about the EU and that people stated they didn’t understand what they were voting for. Many people struggled to articulate specific examples of the EU’s impact on their lives beyond infamous ‘euromyths’ such as the banning of bendy bananas.

In general, however, Barnard and Ludlow found that it was easier for people who voted Leave to provide examples of how they felt the EU had interfered too much than it was for Remain voters to give concrete examples of the EU’s benefit.

Amy Ludlow said: “A key reason many people gave for voting Remain was inertia, that they saw no good reason to change the status quo. Leave voters could more often give a range of reasons for their vote: from immigration and a perceived erosion of British identity to the promise of additional healthcare funding.”

The findings will be presented at Michaelhouse Café in Cambridge on 22 May, where Professor Anand Menon, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe, and Dr Angus Armstrong, senior fellow of The UK in a Changing Europe, will join Barnard and Ludlow to talk about ‘Brexit, Boston and migration’.

Read the full report here.

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

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