You are on the Natcen site

Click here for Scotcen

natcen map

You are on the Natcen site

Click here for Scotcen

natcen map

Brexit: The public’s view five years after the EU referendum

22 June 2021 | Tags: Brexit

Five years after the EU referendum, a new report published today by and the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) suggests Brexit has been far from an unalloyed success so far as public opinion is concerned.

The report by Sir John Curtice is based on a unique series of twelve surveys, typically carried out with 2,000 people in Britain between September 2016 and January 2021, via NatCen’s mixed mode random probability panel.

The public remain resolute – and divided – in their views on Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

Meanwhile, there is limited public enthusiasm for the deal the UK has obtained from the Brexit negotiations.

Brexit still divides Britain

In the most recent survey, conducted just after the UK left the EU single market, four in five (82%) still said they would vote the same way as they did in 2016.

Yet, at the same time, the research suggests that if a second referendum had been held at any time in the last five years most likely there would have been a narrow lead for Remain.

People who did not vote in the 2016 referendum have consistently been at least twice as likely to say they would now vote Remain than that they would now vote Leave.

However, some of those who would still vote Remain say they would not vote to rejoin the EU. As a result, we estimate that a referendum held now on rejoin vs. stay out could well produce a narrow majority (52%) in favour of staying out.

Limited enthusiasm for Brexit deal

Shortly after the UK-EU free trade deal was unveiled, 21% in Britain said the UK left the EU with a good deal, compared with 36% who said it secured a bad deal.

Remain voters are sceptical. A majority of 53% who voted Remain said the UK secured a bad deal, while 16% said it was a good deal.

In contrast, Leave voters are more likely to say that the UK has obtained a good deal (35%) than a bad one (22%). Even so, this indicates that only just over one in three who voted Leave feel positively about the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

Leave voters still believe Brexit will bring benefit

Nevertheless, most Leave voters believe Brexit will deliver at least some of the benefit that they anticipated five years ago.

Three-quarters (75%) of Leave voters still expect Brexit to result in either less immigration or a better economy.

Remain voters, on the other hand, are about as likely today to say the economy will be worse off as a result of Brexit (83%) as they were in September 2016 (79%).

Sir John Curtice, Senior Fellow at the National Centre for Social Research and Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde, said: “Five years on, it is difficult to argue that the Brexit referendum has been an unalloyed success. Approval of the deal reached with the EU is limited. Although few Leave voters regret their decision, equally few Remain voters have been persuaded that Brexit is a good idea after all. Britain is still more or less evenly divided on the issue, just as it was five years ago.”


For more information please contact:

Oliver Paynel, Media and Communications Officer, National Centre for Social Research

Direct: 0207 549 9550

Mobile: 07734 960 071

Or Katie Crabb, Head of Marketing and Communications, National Centre for Social Research


Mobile: 0207 549 8504

Notes to editors

1. The National Centre for Social Research, Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research (
2. What UK Thinks: EU provides impartial, up-to-date information on public attitudes to the European Union in the wake of the majority decision that the UK should leave the EU (
3. The evidence in this report comes from a series of twelve surveys conducted over the course of the last five years with a representative sample of adults in Britain through NatCen’s mixed mode random probability panel.
4. The first survey was undertaken in September 2016, while the most recent was conducted in January 2021.
5. The most recent wave of interviewing took place between 14 January and 7 February 2021. A total of 2,423 persons were interviewed between those dates. Data are weighted by the known population profile.
6. The research reported here was funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’ initiative. (
7. Responsibility for the views expressed in this research lies with the author.