Plurality Of Italians Think Brexit Was The Right Decision, With More Critical Stances In France, Germany And Spain

June 23, 2021
R&WS Research Team
Brexit | France | Germany | Italy | Spain | The European Union
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While the Brexit vote is now nearing its fifth anniversary and the UK officially left the EU on 31 December 2020, discussions over the shape of the future relationship between the UK and the EU are still ongoing

In the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we look at how voters in France, Germany, Italy and Spain currently assess the UK’s decision to leave the EU and the consequences thereof. Overall, we observe different levels of criticism towards Brexit across the four countries polled and also identify generational differences in how positive and negative views towards Brexit are distributed among French, German, Italian, and Spanish respondents. 

42% of French respondents and 48% of German respondents think that the UK public made the wrong decision in voting to leave the European Union in 2016, while 34% and 33% think the UK public made the right decision in France and Germany, respectively. Among the French public, young people are particularly likely to think the UK public made the wrong decision, with 48% of French 18-to-24-year-olds thinking so. Meanwhile, it is older respondents in Germany that are more likely to see Brexit as the wrong decision, with 51% of those aged 65 and above adopting this view, compared to 39% of 18-to-24-year-olds. 

In Spain, 61% of respondents—the highest proportion among all countries polled—think the British public made the wrong decision in deciding to leave the EU, while 22% think the UK public made the right decision. As in Germany, older voters are particularly likely to think so, with 63% of those aged 65 and over expressing this position.   

Italy is the only country among the four polled where a plurality (43%) thinks the UK public made the right decision in deciding to leave the EU in 2016. At the same time, however, it is important to highlight that a further 39% of the public think Brexit was the wrong decision. These results suggest that public opinion on whether Brexit was the right or wrong decision is more split in Italy than in France, Germany and Spain. 

Moreover, we also observe important generational differences in Italy. Whereas 47% of those aged 65 and over think the UK public made the right decision in deciding to leave the EU, only 22% of 18-to-24-year-olds think so. In fact, 55% of this latter age group think Brexit was the wrong decision. 

These results mean that Italians’ views on Brexit are similar to those of the UK public itself. In March 2021, we found that 42% of Britons thought the UK public had made the right decision in deciding to leave the European Union in 2016, while 38% thought the UK public had made the wrong decision and 21% did not know.

When asked about whether or not it is possible to assess whether Brexit was the right or wrong decision at this point in time, almost half (49%) of respondents in France think it is too early to tell whether Brexit was the right or wrong decision, as do 51% of both Italian and Spanish respondents. At the same time, 34% of the French public, 36% of the Italian public and 40% of the Spanish public think it is not too early to tell whether Brexit was the right or wrong decision. Germany stands out as the only country among those polled in which a plurality adopts this latter view: 48% of German respondents think it is not too early to tell whether Brexit was the right or wrong decision, while 37% think it is still too early. 

In addition, we asked voters how they anticipate the UK public’s views on Brexit will evolve in the future. Overall, opinions on whether the UK public will increasingly come to appreciate or regret having left the EU in the coming years are largely in line respondents’ views on whether Britons made the right or wrong decision in voting to leave the EU. 

While pluralities in France (42%), Germany (49%) and Spain (48%) think the UK public will increasingly regret having left the European Union in the coming years, a plurality of 46% of respondents in Italy think the UK public will increasingly come to appreciate having left the EU. By contrast, 31% of the French public, 32% of the German public and 32% of the Spanish public think Britons will increasingly come to appreciate this decision, while 35% of Italians think they will not. 

When asked to identify the biggest benefits the UK, its businesses, and residents will experience as a result of leaving the EU, many European respondents say that more freedom in setting its own laws and standards is the main advantage. In fact, this option is selected as the biggest benefit by 47% of French respondents, 46% of German respondents, 53% of Italian respondents and 53% of Spanish respondents—far ahead of the second-most selected option, more control over immigration and borders. 35% of respondents in France, 39% in Germany, 36% in Italy and 43% of respondents in Spain think this latter point is the biggest benefit the UK will experience.

When looked at through the prism of age, we find that the views of younger respondents in all four countries differ somewhat from the views of the public at large and older respondents. In France, Italy and Spain, for instance, younger voters appear to attach particular importance to trade opportunities. As such, 32% of 18-to-24-year-olds in France, 36% in Italy, and 38% in Spain cite more trade opportunities with non-EU markets as the biggest benefit the UK will experience as a result of leaving the EU. 

In Germany, by contrast, young people are significantly more likely to view more control over environmental policies as the biggest advantage: 27% of 18-to-24-year-olds view this as the biggest benefit the UK will experience, compared to 18% of those aged 65 and over. 

When it comes to the negative consequences of Brexit, loss of trade opportunities with the EU bloc is seen as one of the biggest losses the UK, its businesses, and residents will experience as a result of leaving the EU. 35% of respondents in both France and Germany select this option, along with 34% of respondents in Italy and more than half (54%) of respondents in Spain. 

Moreover, 42% of the Spanish public—as well as 35% of Italians and 33% of the French—see the loss of freedom of movement across the EU as the biggest loss. The German public is less likely to share this view overall, with a somewhat lower proportion of 29% of respondents viewing the loss of freedom of movement across the EU as the biggest loss. Instead, a higher proportion of Germans (35%) than of respondents in France (27%), Italy (30%) or Spain (28%) regard more costly EU goods and services as the biggest loss the UK will experience as a result of Brexit. 

When asked whether respondents across all four countries would be more likely to support their own country leaving the EU if the UK and its economy are doing well in five years’ time, we observe interesting differences between France and Italy on the one hand, and German and Spain on the other. 

If the United Kingdom and its economy are in a good state in five years, 47% of French respondents agree they will be more likely to support France leaving the EU, while 19% disagree and roughly a quarter (23%) neither agree nor disagree. While it is perhaps not surprising that a majority (60%) of 2017 first-round voters of the Eurosceptic Rassemblement National adopt this view, it is notable that 50% of respondents who voted for Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the 2017 French Presidential Election also agree they will be more likely to support France leaving the EU if the UK and its economy are in a good state in five years. As such, it appears that even significant proportions of supporters of pro-European parties, such as Macron’s La République en Marche, do not categorically reject the possibility that they might support France’s exit from the EU. 

Similarly, 50% of Italian respondents agree that if the United Kingdom and its economy are in a good state in five years, they will be more likely to support Italy leaving the EU, while 21% disagree and 23% neither agree nor disagree. 

In Germany and Spain, by contrast, even hypothetical support for leaving the EU that is preconditioned upon the UK and its economy doing well in five years’ time is less widespread than it is in France and Italy. As such, 36% of Germans and 33% of Spaniards agree they will be more likely to support their respective country leaving the EU if the United Kingdom and its economy are in a good state in five years. Importantly, 31% of Germans and 34% of Spanish respondents disagree they would be more likely to support leaving the EU, suggesting higher levels of attachment to EU membership in these two countries.     

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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