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Nearly two thirds of Brits think the EU has been harsh towards the UK during Brexit negotiations and believe it is going to be weaker once the UK has left

Following Donald Tusk’s declaration of a ‘special place in hell’ for Brexiteers without a plan, nearly two thirds of Brits think that the EU has been a harsh negotiator over Brexit, according to a survey from the Centre for European Research at Queen Mary University of London.

11 February 2019


  • Overall, 58 per cent of the UK public believe the EU has been harsh towards the UK during Brexit negotiations
  • The survey reveals a large generational divide though. 78 per cent of over 65s believe the EU has been harsh but only 37 per cent of 18-24 year olds and 48 per cent of 25-49 year olds agreed.
  • That generational divide is also obvious when it comes to people’s feelings about the loss of the automatic right to live, work and study in EU countries: 63 per cent of 18-24 think that loss is serious but only 34 per cent of over-65s agree.
  • Nearly two thirds of Brits (62 per cent) believe that people from other European countries now view the UK negatively in the light of Brexit
  • A majority (55 per cent) of the public believe the citizens of other European countries will be pleased to see the UK leave the EU

Commenting on the survey findings, Dr Sarah Wolff, Director of the Centre for European Research, said: “The Brexit negotiations don’t seem to have done either side any favours, with many British people feeling the EU side has been unduly harsh. But views on the process vary depending on age and, of course, on whether people are Leavers or Remainers. 

“Interestingly, though, even a majority of the latter think the EU will be weakened by the UK’s departure.  That said, only a minority of Brits think Europeans will be sorry to see us go.”

The EU as a harsh negotiator?  There’s a generation gap

Over three quarters (78 per cent) of over 65s reckon the EU’s been either ‘fairly harsh’ or ‘very harsh’ towards the UK during the negotiations. That contrasts with just 37 per cent of 18-24 year olds and 48 per cent of 25-49 year olds.  Conservative voters (83 per cent) and Leavers (84 per cent) overwhelmingly asserted that the EU had been harsh.

Losing mobility is a serious loss for young British people

Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of 18-24 year olds think that losing the right to live, work and study in other EU countries is a serious loss for British people – a view shared by 67 per cent of Labour voters and 82 per cent of Remain voters across all age groups. Only a third (34 per cent) of Brits over 65 agreed though.  Nearly half (47 per cent) of Leave voters think it is a loss but a price worth paying to leave the EU while nearly a quarter of them (24 per cent) are not worried about the ending of such rights. 

Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London said: “It’s clear from the response of young people that those who theoretically stand to lose most in the future from Brexit, at least in terms of their rights to live, work and study in the EU, are far more bothered about the loss of such rights than older Brits – more evidence of a continuing generation gap that the EU Referendum exposed and opened up.”

The EU will be weaker after Britain has left

Some 54 per cent of British people think that the remainder of the EU will be weaker after Britain has left. Data from the YouGov-CER survey shows that again there is a generation gap, with almost 70 per cent of 65 and overs thinking the EU will be weaker. Again the gap between Leavers and Remainers is high; 66 per cent of Leavers think the EU will be weaker, compared to 55 per cent of those who voted Remain, although it’s worth noting that that’s still a majority of them.

Brits think that Brexit has damaged Britain’s reputation in Europe and that other European countries feel sorry to see Britain leaving

Just over half (55 per cent) of Brits think that Brexit has made citizens of other European countries think more negatively about Britain – a view shared by 78 per cent of Remain voters but only 35 per cent of Leave voters.

Just under half (48 per cent) of Brits think that Europeans are sorry to see Britain leave, but almost 30 per cent think that Europeans don’t really care either way.

For a majority of British people, the UK leaving the EU will make no difference when it comes to choice of holiday destination

Some 59 per cent of people said Brexit would make no difference to whether they holidayed in EU member states and only seven per cent thought it would make them less likely to do so

The Northern Ireland backstop – divided opinions

More seriously, at a moment when Theresa May returned to Brussels to ask to re-open the negotiations on the Irish backstop, the survey suggests that a third of Brits (32 per cent) believe the EU should agree to a deal without a Northern Ireland backstop. Just under a quarter (23 per cent) think that the EU should only agree to a deal if it includes a Northern Ireland backstop.

Some 45 per cent of Brits did not know, suggesting that neither side of that particular debate has so far put a convincing case for the exclusion or inclusion of a Northern Ireland backstop.

Further information

The data tables are available here.

The survey of British attitudes and perceptions of Europeans on Brexit was conducted by YouGov between 5 and 6 February 2019 amongst a sample of 1799 people.

The figures have been weighted and are representative of all British adults (aged 18+). YouGov is a member of the British Polling Council and abide by their rules.

For media information, contact:

Paul Jordan
Public Relations Manager
Queen Mary University of London
email: p.jordan@qmul.ac.uk