Public preferences on sovereignty and policy decisions: New short report


The issue of sovereignty lies at the heart of the debate over Britain’s membership of the EU. According to Lord Ashcroft’s referendum-day poll, the most commonly cited reason for voting Leave was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be made in the UK”. Likewise, when respondents in the British Election Study (BES) internet panel were asked, “what matters most to you when deciding how to vote in the EU referendum?”, the modal response among Leave voters was ‘sovereignty’ or one if its various synonyms (e.g., ‘control’ or ‘laws’). In fact, the whole EU debate arguably comes down to whether Britain should continue pooling its sovereignty with 27 other member states, or should reaffirm its national sovereignty by leaving.

As part of our on-going study of attitudes to the Brexit negotiations, we asked respondents whether each of four policies “should mainly be decided” at the European level, the national level, the devolved level (e.g., Wales or England) or at the regional level (e.g., the North East or London). The four policies were: ‘level of immigration’, ‘taxation’, ‘agriculture and fisheries’, and ‘protecting the environment’. Results for Leave supporters (those who voted Leave, or say they would have done so if they had voted).

These results suggest that even most Remain supporters attach quite a lot of importance to national sovereignty. Indeed, in both Lord Ashcroft’s referendum-day poll and the BES internet panel, by far the most frequently given reason for voting Remain was the ‘economy’, rather than anything positive about the EU itself.

Read the article in the UK in a Changing Europe’s latest report, published 31st Jan 2018.