Brexit means Brexit – or does it?

09 Nov 2016 | Research & Business Knowledge

Alongside the Q4 UK Financial Activity Barometer* that shows consumers savings, investment and borrowing activities at near record levels, the GfK survey for JGFR also asked respondents whether they agreed that Brexit means Brexit (BMB).  

Despite the government insistence that BMB, and the public resilient towards 'Project Fear', only 49% of the public agree that BMB. While the vote was for the UK to leave the UK it was silent on the terms.  

This fact may be one reason for the ongoing uncertainty with debate now splitting into a 'soft' Brexit meaning 'EU-lite' rather than a 'hard' Brexit or 'EU-out', with the government unwilling to give any public guidance.  Growing Brexit fatigue and/ or a lack of understanding may be other reasons but the fact that 51% of the public do not agree/ don’t know suggests a division in the country over Europe that has changed little in recent months. 

More positively, and at odds with pre-Referendum forecasts, the UK economy has performed far better than expected.  People have been getting on with their lives and adapting to the new era but beneath the surface a broad generational divide is underway with the older generation firmly in control.  

See figure 1 
There are notable differences by gender and age, with a majority of men (57%) agreeing with BMB, compared to 41% of women. Far fewer of the young agree that BMB, with just 26% of 23-29 year olds and 29% of 16-22 year olds (28% students).  This contrasts with a much greater proportion of over 50s: 59% of 50-64 year olds and two-thirds of the over 65s.  

By income band the highest proportion agreeing with BMB is among the top household income band (£50,000+, 55%); this may reflect a greater proportion of male high-earners.  Some will be graduates, but among this group only 45% believe BMB. More are likely to be among the self-employed and professionals with 51% agreeing that BMB.  

People who support BMB, in part reflecting their age, are less financially active as they borrow less; are more likely to invest in shares, put money in a cash deposit or ISA.  More are outright owners. 

See figure 2

Attitudes towards BMB vary considerably across the UK. Highest agreement is found in the North East (62%), Wales (62%), Scotland (57%) and the South East (55%). Lowest is in London (39%) and Yorkshire / Humberside (42%).  

Majority support in Scotland is perhaps a little surprising, although here the view may be that Brexit is inevitable which will push Scotland towards a second Referendum. 

Of the regions, only London, Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU.  Most regions voted to leave.  Support for BMB is only found in the four regions cited above with a 50-50 split in the South West.  

Shades of Grey 

Why are more people not supporting the statement given the Prime Minister's clear message that Britain will be leaving the European Union? 

A look at the Referendum polling may throw some light.  Of the UK population of 51.3 million aged 18+ (ONS) only 33.4 million voted in the Referendum (Electoral Commission) leaving 17.9 million (35% of the adult population) non-voters.  

Of these non-voters, 13.1 million were registered but did not vote, while 4.8 million (9%) could not vote. 

Turnout for the Referendum was 72.2% but only represented 65.3% of the population. 

Effectively Brexit was only voted for by 34% of the population which may explain why BMB only attracted support from 49% of the population.   

Not eligible to vote in the Referendum were the 1.5 million 16-17 year olds who are represented in the survey, and who will also have helped depress the proportion agreeing that BMB.  

The referendum was conducted as a binary black and white issue, in reality it is leading to many shades of grey across the country. 


The Q4 Financial Activity Barometer was undertaken by GfK for JGFR among 2,000 adults aged 16+ online, representative of the UK population between 1-16 September 2016.  

A statement on the same omnibus asked respondents whether the following applied to them or they agreed with: Brexit means Brexit