What Sort of Brexit Do the British People Want?

A Proof-of-Concept Study Using Stated Preference Discrete Choice Experiments

The British public place the greatest value on the ability to make trade deals and retaining access to the Single Market for trade of goods and services after Brexit, more so than restricted freedom of movement, increased sovereignty and reduced EU contribution.

These findings, and others, were the result of a set of stated preference discrete choice experiments conducted in February 2017 with almost 1,000 members of the British public.

Background

In the wake of the vote for the UK to the leave the European Union (EU), the UK government has started the process to negotiate terms for ‘Brexit’. As with all negotiations, trade-offs will have to be made. The purpose of this study is to go beyond the political rhetoric, starting from the premise that compromises will have to be made, and try to understand what the British public think about these trade-offs.

Goals

RAND Europe worked with The Policy Institute at King’s College London and the University of Cambridge to help understand and quantify how the British population value key aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU that may form part of the Brexit negotiations. The aim was to look at the public’s views about the detailed choices on offer, defined by seven key attributes:

  • Freedom of movement for holidays
  • Freedom of movement for working and living
  • Net contribution to the EU budget
  • Free trade deals
  • Free trade of services and goods
  • Sovereignty over laws.

Our aim was to quantify the relative importance of these attributes to the British public and how these vary across the population.

Methodology

The research uses an economic approach known as ‘stated preference discrete choice experiments’ to measure how the British public value different aspects of our relationship with Europe. The method involves asking individuals to state their preference between hypothetical relationship options, described by the seven key attributes shown above. Each attribute was then described by a number of levels, reflecting in different negotiation positions and possible deals.

The research used a sample of 917 people interviewed in February 2017, drawing from those who participated in the British Social Attitudes survey, which is considered to be the “gold standard” for survey research.

Findings

  • The British public want a deal on Brexit and are willing to compromise to get one. Netting out the positives and negatives, we find that the current situation of EU membership is worth about £14 per household per week more than leaving the EU with no deal.
  • The British public place the greatest value on having the ability to make trade deals and retaining access to the Single Market for trade of goods and services after Brexit, more so than restricting freedom of movement, increased sovereignty and reduced EU contribution.
  • The British public seem, particularly those who voted to leave the EU, to be more concerned with restricting demand for public services than simply managing freedom of movement.
  • The British public value the UK being able to make its own laws, but not as much as they value Single Market access or the ability to make trade deals.
  • Education level was the most important explanatory variable in quantifying people’s preferences. Overall, those with university degrees preferred closer ties to the EU. They were more positive about the value of freedom of movement for holidays and working and strongly disliked options with severe restrictions on freedom of movements, such as requiring a visa to travel to other European countries for holidays (and requiring other Europeans to have a visa to travel to the UK). They were also less sensitive to the level of EU contributions and held differing views about the importance of UK sovereignty over its laws, preferring options where the UK is subject to EU laws in environment, employment and trade.
  • Given the importance of making trade deals and retaining access to the Single Market, we find that the public place a positive value on a relationship like Norway’s current relationship with the EU, allowing for free trade with other countries while remaining within the single market, and accepting freedom of movement and some loss of sovereignty.