A Lost Tribe: Britain’s Young Eurosceptics

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: A Lost Tribe: Britain’s Young Eurosceptics

DATE: 6 pm, 2 October 2019

VENUE: Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, Westminster, SW1P 4RS, United Kingdom

SPEAKER: Dr Rakib Ehsan, Dr Phillip Blond

EVENT CHAIR: James Rogers


James Rogers: Good evening ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to this discussion today at the Henry Jackson Society. We are going to talk about an interesting topic, but perhaps one that is often overlooked or forgotten and that is the idea of a ‘lost tribe’. Focusing on Britain’s young eurosceptics, so what do they think, or do they exist and what are the differences and similarities between what young eurosceptics might think and what young remainers might think. Of course, we’re talking about Britain’s relationship with the European Union which took another turn this afternoon with the government’s proposals for the future of the relationship as we move forward into the coming years.

So it’s my great pleasure to introduce to you tonight Dr Rakib Ehsan who is a research fellow in our centre on radicalisation & Terrorism. He specialises in the socio-political behaviour and attitudes of British ethnic minorities, with a particular focus on the UK’s Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups. He’s researched and produced reports for a number of different think-tanks including Policy Exchange, the Runnymede Trust, and the Mackenzie Institute. But over the last few months he has turned his hand to focus on Britain’s young eurosceptics. He recently published this report, of which the findings he will present tonight. Then we will turn over to Phillip Blond, who is not currently with us because he’s been delayed in a taxi, but he will be joining us very shortly and i’ll introduce him in due course. So without further due, I will hand over to Rakib and he will present his findings in relation to the lost tribe.

Rakib Ehsan: So firstly, I’d like to thank everyone for attending this event. This is the first publication of mine since I have joined the Henry Jackson Society back in March. I really appreciate your presence and hopefully you will find this very interesting.

So ‘Lost Tribe: Britain’s Young Eurosceptics’. First, we will talk about the motivations behind the publication of the report. Much of the research Brexit related focuses on what shapes and conditions pro-remain sentiment amongst young British people, which is understandable because younger sections of the population were more likely to vote remain in the June 2016 Referendum on EU membership. Alongside this, dominant political and media narrative present the Brexit debate almost as a inter-generational conflict where the older pro-leave generation is at odds with the younger pro remain generation. This is a rather simplistic view and doesn’t capture the more sophisticated nature of these dynamics surrounding attitudes towards the EU in British society. I’d also say that prevailing Brexit narrative tend to be economistic, there tends to be a focus when looking at the Brexit vote focusing on the industrial left behind communities. And I feel that the more socio-cultural factors involved when it came to voting in the June 2016 Ref has been somewhat overlooked. So ultimately the production of the report ought to be sort of to address what I would call ‘an underdeveloped area of research’. The socio-cultural factors which drive pro-leave sentiment amongst younger portions of the British population. So just to talk a little bit about the data and methodology. The data collection of this report took place in May 2016 so a few weeks before the June 2016 referendum and the survey data collection was conducted by YouGov. It’s a nationally represented pre-referendum sample of 1351 adults aged 18-30. And the survey items include the questions on socio-demographic characteristics, policy priorities, socio-cultural attitudes, trust in a variety of social actors which we’ll discuss later on, and personal identification. Looking at how people identify in terms of their nation-based loyalties. The report included multi-variable analysis in the form of logistic regression. I know that this sounds very technical and I’ll explain that later on in the presentation. So, just to talk about the descriptive statistics and some of the ones more interesting findings. So for the report, I split the data set into two specific sub-groups: those who stated they would vote to leave the EU and those who stated they would vote to remain in the EU. So firstly I looked at the gender composition between the two subgroups. I’d say this is one of the more interesting findings in the report so if you actually see here we have the gender composition for pro-leave: female in red, male in blue and if you actually see the pro remain subgroup its fairly evenly split in terms of gender. While the pro-leave subgroup, 62% of the pro-leave subgroup was actually male. Now this is quite interesting because this very much fits in the patterns we see all over and across the Atlantic, for example in President Trumps’ election in 2016. Looking at figure 2: There is a lot of talk about how educational attainment fits into this picture so there are three levels in line with other existing studies. As we would expect, young people in the Pro-remain subgroup were more likely to be highly educated. But we will make a point later in the presentation that this is not the factor that had the strongest effect. Social class, pro-leave subgroup is pretty evenly split, while the pro-remain subgroup was more unbalanced. 3 in 4 people of the pro-remain voters were from c to d-e so you do have at this level a social class effect.

Working education status, this is quite interesting because if you look at the two subgroups, if you look at the purple bar here, these are people in full time education so you can see that the pro-remain subgroup of full time education is disproportionately higher from the full time education group in the pro-leave subgroup. In terms of campaigns at university campuses there were more prone to be pro-remain than pro-leave.

Now moving on to policy priorities, the general difference between the pro-leave and pro-remain groups, is that the pro-leave are more concerned about security issues: immigration & asylum, terrorism and defence …. While the pro-remain subgroup were far more likely to choose the environment as one of their top priorities as well as education.

Now this is one of the sharpest differences underlined in the report: Perspective on the cultural diversity that characterise modern Britain. Nearly 89% of the pro-remain subgroup held a positive view of cultural diversity. Now it’s important to say that there is a decent portion of the pro-leave subgroup have a positive view of cultural diversity in the UK — 43% so a huge difference. Only 6.4% of the pro-remain subgroup had a negative view of cultural diversity in Britain today while it goes up to 46% in the pro-leave subgroup. And as I show later on, this is the sharpest difference between Britain young leavers, and young remainers.

Trust in politicians, this is an issue where pro-leave and pro-remain voters find common ground. What is even more interesting is that the pro-remain subgroup was even less trusting than the pro-leave subgroup and that is something that defies the broader national trend. Now, I would suspect that this is because the pro-remain has a high concentration of people who identify with the labour party, if you look at their political awareness since they entered adulthood, they have lived under conservative rule.

Distrust of social actors: Figure 8 Now you can see here there is a pretty clear difference between the two subgroups when it comes to teachers and academics. Only 8.8% of the pro-remain subgroup said they were not trusting of educationalists. This rises to 27% when looking at pro-leave voters. But academics are relatively well trusted compared to other social actors. The media doesn’t fair too well in this analysis neither do religious leaders. Interestingly with Britain’s young population there’s this sort of talk or speculation about being obsessed with celebrity culture but when it actually comes to the trust celebrity icons and sport stars you can clearly see there are high levels of distrust in both subgroups. What’s interesting though is the difference when it comes to leaders of union. The pro-leave group is for more distrustful of trade union leaders than the pro-remain group.

There’s been lots of talks about how Brexit was led by identity, how it was led by English xenophobia and narrow minded mentality. I do not agree with at all, largely because even though 46.9% of the pro-leave subgroup identified as English, more than 3 in 10 in the pro-remain group did so too. Now if you actually look at people who primarily identified as Welsh you can see that there is a clear leaning toward pro-leave. This is almost the untold story of Brexit. Most people do not know that the pro-leave/pro-remain gap in Wales was in fact much larger than in England. Interestingly people who identified as European, there are 2.5% who are in the pro-leave subgroup and rises to 11% for the pro-remain subgroup. So moving on the more multivariable analysis, this regression table model predict [inaudible]

So you look at the selective probability, so this is what is really driving pro-leave or pro-remain sentiment among young voters: one of the strongest predictors was the opinion on cultural diversity.  Having a primary English identity wasn’t as influential as people think. You can see here ‘immigration’ [inaudible]

What’s really important is not the level of education but rather attitudes towards education as a policy issue and the education sector itself.

So to conclude, I would say it is very important that the socio-cultural factors in driving the Brexit vote should not be underestimated at all. And as I’ve said attitudes toward education both as a policy issue and as a social sector are important dividing lines between pro-leave and pro-remain voters. And as I’ve said earlier when compared to their pro remain peers, pro-leave young people are more security oriented but they are also more socio-culturally conservative on the state of modern day Britain, specifically, on it more culturally diverse nature. And to make a final point since we are talking about what separates these groups. I’ll say that any post-Brexit government has to address the desperately low levels of trust amongst young people across the board.

Question from audience: Has there been any similar comprehensive research done recently, after the referendum?


Rakib Ehsan: There are recent data sets looking at attitudes toward the European Union but I do not think there has been recent studies focusing on young peoples’ attitudes in depth. It would be a fantastic idea to compare the May 2016 data to more recent results.

James Rogers: Phillip Blond is a Director of ResPublica – an independent and non-partisan think-tank. He is internationally recognised political thinker and social and economic commentator. He bridges the gap between politics and practice, offering strategic consultation and policy formation to governments, businesses and organisations across the world. He founded ResPublica in 2009 and is an academic, journalist and author. Prior to entering politics and public policy, he was a senior lecturer in theology and philosophy, teaching at the Universities of Exeter and Cumbria. He is the author of Red Tory (Faber and Faber 2010), which sought to redefine the centre ground of British politics around the ideas of civil association, mutual ownership and shared enterprise.

So without further due, I will hand the discussion over to Mr Blond.

Phillip Blond: I want to thank Rakib for inviting me today. I read his paper, and thought that it was a very interesting deep dive into who voted for Brexit and perhaps why. And still do not understand the why. We know the economic argument, we know the arguments for cultural marginalisation but we don’t quite know why the EU has become the proxy of those levels of dissatisfaction and anger, which I think is profoundly interesting. Now, I was thinking about this coming down on the train today. That in some sense, the reaction to Brexit is not really a reaction against the EU but maybe a hidden argument for something else. I recently did an interview for Spiked in which I talked about what was happening. So I think a way to access the ‘why’ and to add where the conversation needs to be which is around the feeling of marginalisation and what that means in terms of status and culture is to ask what has engendered that, what kind of philosophy has caused that. It might not surprise some of you that I think what that is is liberalism in its extreme form.

And if we read Rakib’s work, class is a proxy, not the only one, but a pretty good one that supports the ‘left-behind’ thesis. It stands a relationship with the work that is being done at the moment. The work that is done around Trump, populism in Europe and Brexit shows that the fundamental driver of this is cultural and values led, not exclusively economic. So I think it is important to reflect on how and why this is the case.

So, human beings, let’s go back to the origin of human beings. The evidence shows that humans first evolved as group animals, rational groups where merit was based on what stability you achieve for the group. You could say this has transformed into a kingship system. And the utility of the honour that we gave reflected the benefits to the group. Throughout history and until the Enlightenment period, or the birth of unrestricted liberalism always accorded on who brought honour to the group. You might argue, that Rome was governed more by honour than by money. Christian medieval Europe certainly was and we selected and attempted to elect those who upheld the general good, the good of the group. Now what’s really interesting about liberalism, if we understand the birth of liberalism as having three fathers: Hobbes, Rousseau and Locke. What we should really understand Liberalism as is first a war on any shared goods – the denial that there are any goods held in common. Particularly, Hobbes argues that there are no objectively shared identity or solidarity that can be philosophically defended if you read Pierre … book on the origin of liberalism I think is the best book on that topic. The claim was that the wars of religion which were wars about the nature of nature, the nature of objectivity, could only be ended by refusing any objectivity as such. Essentially everything was subjective. Then, there is Locke who essentially accorded primary economic … rights … again to the individual in regard to the group [inaudible]. And then one might say, we had Rousseau who converted to the idea that man was first born free but then enslaved by society. And then that his own will could re-gain freedom. What holds all three together is that denial of shared objective goods. Now that denial also created individualism.

That means we create a system where status is no longer group engineered but is individually engineered or engendered and individually won. It’s very interesting, human story is almost like geology, everything interpenetrates. Ideas seek to be at the bottom, the foundations of the reality.  Liberalism took time to claim that it was the foundation of what everything else. When you become the foundation you can re-write everything above you. This is how identity politics work today. So what liberalism did was create a metaphysic in economics to realise that metaphysic and essentially and gradually drained any communal shared value set and made it just the possession of individuals. So what this means is that it creates human lives as a zero-sum game. In this way, someone’s honour is always at the expense of someone else’s. Now, there are some very unpleasant scientists, who I think should be in prison, who took alpha male apes and denied their alpha male status and they died quite quickly. Similarly, those who are awarded Oscars, live longer than those who are simply nominated for Oscars –  about two years’ difference. Now what does this mean?

This means that status is a life and death matter which we know. If you look at public health of England and all the statistics. For example, all the stuff about poor people living way shorter lives around 20 years may come from status. What’s really interesting about being British, is we’re acutely aware of status. We can place somebody on social economic hierarchy pretty bloody accurately within about a millisecond according to their clothing, hair, dentition… So what happens in a society where there are no shared common objective goods and where all the gains in terms of status go to the winners and the losers lose. What happens also in things like assorted mating or the marriage game, is that women do not marry beneath themselves in terms of status. What we see now is that males are mimicking female behaviour. And what this means is that we live in a society where our deep anthropological and sociological status is being progressively denied to us by extreme forms of liberalism not just economically. What emerges from this is that in a status conscient society what structurally we rob status from people. Being reminded of your no status is absolutely crucial fatal, dangerous. What I liked about Rakib’s paper was the nuance around ‘working class males’ and around educated people who distrust education not people who didn’t get into education – education being what gives status. And the sneering that we have, the brutal way we regard people with lower status or no status and the penalties that people pay for that is I think what is part of the culture of explanation. So what is Brexit the answer to? And it’s not very clear to me that Brexit is the solution to this problem that has engendered it. Most people think that Brexit came from the fact that people care about sovereignty. And I appreciate that some of you voted for Brexit for that reason but that is not why the majority has voted for Brexit. I suspect that the reason behind the referendum result is due to the people’s view of the EU as an elitist project of status capture that is associated with political correctness, with dominance of the liberal class. What’s interesting is looking at the Trump election, hostility to pol correctness was the second predictor of voting for Trump behind being a Republican and if you look at political correctness today, the politically correct correlate very very strongly with education and status. Essentially, upper class white are more politically correct than anyone else and 75% of Black African Americans hate political correctness. I suspect that the people voted for Brexit, precisely because they felt that the cosmopolitans, the elite liberals who only constitute on value, that this was a way to ‘stick it’ to the man. To get back status to mobilise against the elitist and re-gain status back for themselves.

I also thought interesting the fact that you underline the fact that there is a correlation between a strong welsh identity and voting for Brexit. This takes us to the nationalists’ point and the rise of nationalism. So, if you looked across the West, it’s liberalism VS. nationalism – the essence of liberalism is the denial of shared values, the denial of solidarity while the essence of nationalism is a feeling of close solidarity, in that sense nationalism is an attempt to gain status for a group that has been denied status. And this is what I think one of the more telling accounts that I can offer, where I think the Brexit vote came from.

Why the hostility of lower income, territorial, white males to migration and why the celebration of the cosmopolitan class for migration? The standard answer to the first perspective is ‘migrants are an economic threat’. That seems to be an unlikely or reductionist answer. A more interesting account might be newcomers threaten solidarity, so I’ve always been interested in ‘free-riders’ because I think it’s foundational. And I remember reading a paper that even babies identify free riders and penalise them. There must be something about the introduction of newcomers/strangers in an environment of strong solidarity where they do not have any means of demonstrating integration with the dominant value set, patterns of the dominant value set that they are coded necessarily at an anthropological level as a threat. And I suspect that feels more foundational than an abstract argument that they are an economic threat.

Questions and Observations from the audience:

  • In Dr Ehsan’s paper, when UKIP was mentioned, there was this huge blue line, and a small red line. Now, this was three years ago, and the UKIP party is basically non-existent. But Brexit as a party has arrived and yet it’s social composition is probably more middle class. What does not come up in your paper is self-employed people; I have a feeling that this group were more prone to vote leave. I am not sure, this is an assumption.

Phillip Blond: Generally speaking, those who are avert to immigration are those who do not experience immigration. So if you correlate the data of the leave vote another high propensity to leave is low diversity, places with the least penetration. So the cosmopolitan areas vote for remain and the non-cosmopolitain vote to leave (even these wealthy areas).

  • From my realisation of the Brexit Party, both the people who represent us and those who are supporters. The social mix is pretty much the same, if it’s not a bit more middle class. I would say the entrepreneurial, small business, self-employed is still a substantial portion of those who want to leave.


  • Since 2015, the migration to Europe has spurred because of the conflict in Syria and I think that definitely played a role in the vote. People were afraid of what was happening and this was their way of countering the issue.


  • Do you think it’s useful to use language like ‘tribal’ and ‘identity crisis’ it seems to be quite toxic to use this kind of vocabulary to describe the situation?


Rakib Ehsan: It’s not because you want more rigorous immigration laws that you are anti-immigration. In the same way it’s not because you are against cultural diversity in the UK that you are racist. That is nonsense. The fact is you can be perfectly acceptant of racial diversity, but you can acknowledge the divisive effects of cultural diversity in the UK. You can be wholly comfortable with racial diversity but ultimately understand that diversity needs to be tied under central, moral, cultural standards. There has been a lot of discussion on education attainment and I want to build on that. Attitudes toward the education or the trust that people have for institutions, teachers and academics were more telling of the Brexit vote.

James Rogers: Maybe, just maybe, Brexit is not the disaster that some predict and instead Brexit could be what brings the solidarity, the group identity back into alignment. Maybe the future is more about constructing a society in which liberalism and group identity can co-exist. This is maybe the project of the age.

Phillip Blond: However, all the evidence goes against this. The frightening thing is that we are entering America’s culture wars. Culture wars represent real and conflictual interest and there is no evidence that we are coming together at all.


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