European Union

What do Europeans really think about Brexit?

The European public will have a greater impact on the Brexit negotiations than is usually recognised. But where are Britain’s closest allies? And who would relish a firm separation? 

Listening to British politicians, the British people and the UK are either loved by a European political elite that will bend over backwards to accommodate a Brexit suitable to the UK or hated by an elite keen to punish the UK for its disobedience in voting to leave the EU.

What is often forgotten is that the EU political leaders negotiating Brexit are also accountable to their own voters in how they manage the process and so however much the perception is that its Merkel’s pragmatism or Macron’s Europhilia that will decided Brexit, it’s the mood on the streets of Berlin and Paris that are much more likely to set the course of the negotiations. So what do Europeans really think about Brexit, who are the allies of the Brits and does this bode well for a soft-Brexit or one where the UK is kicked-out with as much force as possible?

Brexit on the Brink

According to a new survey of 7 EU member states and Switzerland conducted by the TransSOL project, Europeans are split right down the middle on Brexit, with 41.1% indicating that the UK should remain a EU member state, 41.7% saying the UK should leave and 17.2% still undecided.

The UK’s allies? Poles, Danes and Germans are the most likely to say that the UK should remain a member of the EU and – potentially then – are the most likely to want the UK to remain as much like an EU member state as possible after Brexit. In particular, almost 60% of Polish respondents and 52% of Germans want the UK to remain. Under what conditions though remains to be seen.

On the contrary, Greece, France and Italy are all more likely to say that the UK should leave the EU, potentially making their governments more likely to push for the UK to exit if deal unlikely to please their citizens is reached. 52% of Greeks and 47% of French respondents in particular favoured the UK leaving, making those two countries the most likely to be least accommodating to the UK.

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Also interesting in the survey was whether any of the countries surveyed would also vote to leave the EU, if a referendum were to be held. As expected, if a new referendum was held in the UK, the result would again be split down the middle, with 44.3% saying they’d vote remain against 45.2% saying they’d vote leave. For all other EU member states, except Greece, remain would win, with Germany and Poland the most likely to vote strongly for remain. Greeks however would also vote to leave according to the survey – with 46% saying they’d vote to leave, against 38% to remain, a potential large challenge to the EU for the future and an aspect that is likely to play against the Greek government being overly generous with the UK during negotiations.

So what does all this mean for the UK? It seems that EU citizens are just as divided as British ones on Brexit. While some countries can be potentially counted on to try to make the Brexit process smooth due to citizen support for the UK to remain part of the EU, large parts of Europe – including citizens of France and Italy, the second and third largest member states by population and GDP, are keen that the UK leaves. Whatever personal goodwill still exists, it seems the British government should not count on European political leaders providing any leeway to a demanding UK that wants a Brexit on favourable terms, when from Paris to Rome and Athens, au revoir is fast becoming a firm goodbye.


Featured Image Courtesy of Andrew Gustar.


Jackson Oldfield
Jackson Oldfield is a Senior Project Manager and researcher based in Berlin. He worked for Transparency International as a Programme Coordinator in the Middle East and North Africa department and, before that, at the Danish Institute for Human Rights on business and human rights.