New research uncovers the reasons why the Remain campaign failed to convince enough voters of economic case to stay in the EU

A combination of a lack of trust in politicians and experts and a failure to believe in the economic benefits of EU membership mean that it is not inevitable that the public would turn against Brexit if faced with an economic downturn, Prof John Curtice argues in a new paper published today by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).

Findings from a host of post-referendum polling show that if you thought the economy would be worse after Brexit you voted Remain and if you thought it would be better you voted Leave. As a result, had the Remain campaign convinced more than 50% of voters that Brexit would undermine the economy, Britain would most likely have voted to stay in the EU.

However, during the referendum polls and surveys consistently found that well under half the public believed that Britain’s economy would suffer if the UK left the EU.

The paper published as part of the ESRC-funded What UK Thinks: EU project uncovers the reasons why the Remain campaign failed to convince enough voters of the economic case to stay in the EU:

–       Past EU performance: The public were not convinced that Britain had benefitted economically from the EU in the past or would do so in future. This made it harder to persuade them that the economy would suffer if we left.

–       Remain leaders failed to convince: More people liked and trusted Boris Johnson than either David Cameron or George Osborne. Moreover, even those who liked David Cameron were not persuaded that leaving the EU would damage the economy. In contrast, those who liked Boris Johnson were more likely to believe that Brexit would not lead to an economic downturn.

–       Enough of experts: Many voters were disinclined to trust the views of the views of “experts” from the worlds of finance and economics on the question of Britain’s membership of the EU.

–       An inseparable debate: Concerns about immigration and identity were so central to the public’s views about the EU that they influenced the way people saw the economic case for Brexit too. Voters were not necessarily willing to focus on the economic arguments alone.

Prof John Curtice, Senior Research Fellow, NatCen argues: “We should not assume that the public will turn against Brexit if economic difficulties follow the vote to leave the EU. Many of those who voted to Leave exhibited a distrust of financial institutions and experts that suggests they could well point the finger of blame instead at those same institutions and experts if markets react adversely to Brexit. That said, they are looking to the government to negotiate a deal that ensures that in the end the consequences are at least economically neutral.”


For more information or a copy of the report contact Sophie Brown:, 020 7549 9550 or 07734 960 069 or Leigh Marshall:, 0207 549 8506 or 07828 031850

Read the full report here.


  1. The ‘What UK Thinks: Europe’ website can be accessed at It provides a comprehensive collection of polling and survey data on attitudes in the UK towards Europe, data on what the rest of Europe thinks about the EU, and impartial commentary and analysis on the evidence of the polls. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of its initiative on ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’.
  1. NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.
  1. The UK in a Changing Europe initiative – – promotes independent, rigorous, high-quality academic research into the complex and ever changing relationship between the UK and the European Union. It provides an authoritative, non-partisan and impartial reference point for those looking for information, insights and analysis on UK-EU relations.
  1. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.