New poll challenges assumption majority of Brits want to end freedom of movement

A new poll published today by Demos think tank and ComRes shows Britons may hold more favourable attitudes towards freedom of movement than is sometimes believed.

The nationally representative poll asked respondents to choose between three reciprocal options for Britain’s immigration relationship with the European Union:

  • Restrictions on free movement in the form of a points- based system or similar
  • Free movement to continue, but with restrictions on the ability of [EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in EU countries] to claim benefits for the first 4 years after arrival, and on the free movement of citizens with criminal records
  • Free movement to continue with no changes to the current system

The results showed only 20 per cent would back continuing the current arrangements of freedom of movement. But respondents were divided between continuing the principle of freedom of movement, while restricting access to welfare for four years and access for those with criminal records (41 per cent), and those who wanted to restrict free access by default and introduce a new ‘Australian-style’ points-based system or similar (39 per cent).

This means that 61 per cent of Britons would prefer to maintain some freedom of movement as the default position, with or without reform, compared to the 39 per cent who would like to scrap freedom of movement in favour of a points- based system or similar.

Reflecting three likely immigration options on the table for the Government in its Brexit negotiations, the poll did not offer respondents the option to choose to completely end all immigration.

However, the relatively low support for continuing the status quo, shows that a significant portion of all British voters were also hoping for the system to be reformed – suggesting that immigration was in fact an issue in both Leave and Remain camps.

Younger adults (20%) and Londoners (29%) were least likely to support restricting freedom of movement, with older, retired adults (46%) and those in Yorkshire & Humberside (45%), Wales (44%) and the South East (46%) preferring a points- based system. Those from AB social grades (65% vs 60% on average for the other social grades) and women (65% vs 57% men) were more likely to support tinkering with the current system, or keeping it the same, rather than scrapping freedom of movement.

Curiously, the unemployed were the most likely to support continuing the existing freedom of movement rules (33% of those not working and seeking work, compared to 8-11% of those retired on a state or private pension). This may reflect the reciprocal nature of the questions, with the unemployed more likely to feel constrained by a system whereby the EU would also limit inward migration from the UK based on skills levels.

Commenting on the findings, Demos’ Chief Executive Claudia Wood said:

“This polling shows how complex the Prime Minister’s task of managing the Brexit negotiations will be – within Europe, but also at home. Britons are very much divided on the best pathway forward. What’s surprising, is that when made to choose in a reciprocal context between three immigration scenarios likely to be on the table after Article 50 is triggered, a majority support maintaining some form of freedom of movement within the EU.”

“This unexpected result highlights that the public’s voice on our EU membership must not be extinguished after the Referendum vote; to repair some of the wounds laid bare, it’s clear there must also be an opportunity for input and deliberation ahead of the negotiations, so that we leave on terms that work for the British people.”

Media and Interview Requests:

Please contact Alexandra Porter at Demos, on 0207 367 4200 (07969 326069 out of hours) or [email protected]

Notes to Editors:

The fieldwork for this poll was conducted by ComRes online between 10 and 11 August 2016, with a sample of 2,017 adults. Data was weighted to be representative of all adults in Great Britain.  Full data tables can be found on the ComRes website, www.comresglobal.com. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Respondents were asked: Q1. This next question is about the ongoing negotiations for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Which of the following types of agreement on free movement would you most like to see the UK introduce for citizens from the EU, if the same agreement was then introduced by other countries in the EU with regard to British citizens?

Answer options listed:

– Restrictions on the free movement of EU citizens to the UK, and UK citizens to EU countries

– Free movement to continue, but with restrictions on the ability of EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in EU countries to claim benefits for the first 4 years after arrival, and on the free movement of citizens with criminal records

Free movement of EU citizens to the UK, and UK citizens to EU countries to continue with no changes to the current system

To ensure balance during fieldwork, half of the respondents were shown the above statements with restrictions for UK citizens coming first in each statement, while the other half were shown the same statements but with restrictions for EU citizens coming first in each statement.


Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think tank: an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research. Visit: demos.co.uk

ComRes is a leading research consultancy specialising in corporate reputation, public policy and communications. Visit: www.comresglobal.com