The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has caused some damage to its reputation among EU members of the G20, but raises hopes of wider world ties, according to early findings from a large survey released by the British Council today.
The opinion survey of nearly 40,000 people aged between 18 and 34 years old was carried out for the British Council by Ipsos MORI in two waves either side of the EU referendum.
And while the results show some significant negative shifts in the EU countries towards the UK’s attractiveness – as well as its people and government - there were positive reactions from nations outside the bloc.
Key survey findings include:
OVERALL ATTRACTIVENESS: 36 per cent of people in EU countries2 said Brexit had had a negative impact on the UK’s overall attractiveness as a country (compared to 17 per cent who said positive). However, in Commonwealth nations3 33 per cent saw Brexit as having a positive impact on overall attractiveness compared to 20 per cent negative. The figures for the rest of the G204 were 35 per cent positive and 17 per cent negative. The UK’s overall rank for attractiveness remained high – fourth in the world when considering tourism, studying, arts and culture, making personal contacts, and doing business and trade.
TRUST IN PEOPLE: When asked about the Brexit vote and their trust in people from the UK, 33 per cent of EU nations said that it had had a negative impact, 16 per cent positive. However, in Commonwealth nations 31 per cent saw the vote as having a positive impact on their trust in people from the UK compared to 18 per cent negative.The figures for the rest of the G20 were 32 per cent positive and 15 per cent negative.
TRUST IN GOVERNMENT: When asked specifically about Brexit, 41 per cent of EU nations said that it had had a negative impact on their trust in the UK government, against 16 per cent positive. In Commonwealth countries, 29 per cent said it had had a positive impact compared to 21 per cent negative. The figures for the rest of the G20 were 31 per cent positive and 20 per cent negative.
Reflecting on the results, the British Council – the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities – is calling for an ‘Open Brexit’ in which the UK seeks to maintain and step up its people to people connections with other European nations and beyond. This would include continued ease of movement for students, academics and creative professionals; increased cultural, educational and scientific partnership, connections and research; and enhanced investment into the UK’s cultural and educational connections with countries globally.
The British Council believes that cultural relations is vital to the UK’s long-term standing across the globe and that the EU referendum result - and subsequent response to it - must be used as an opportunity to strengthen cultural and educational connections with the rest of the world.
Chief Executive of the British Council, Sir Ciarán Devane, said: “As the UK comes to reposition itself on the world stage, our reputation matters more than ever. We need to address the more negative opinions young people in Europe now have whilst making the most of the positive opinions elsewhere.
“We know cultural exchange builds trust. Staying active on the global stage will pave the way for the renewed alliances and trading deals that the UK will be seeking across the globe.
“Leaving the EU in a way that maintains relationships with the societies of Europe – and that strengthens these partnerships around the world - will be essential.
“An Open Brexit can use these connections to forge new bonds globally, as well as continue the centuries of cooperation with the nations of Europe in science, education, business and the arts.”
The British Council commissioned the survey to track changes in the UK’s overall attractiveness to young people and soft power strengths as a follow up to its 2014 publication As Others See Us and completed the first wave in mid-June. Following the referendum result, the survey was run again in September to assess the impact of the result on the UK’s global standing.
Other key findings in the survey were:
REFERENDUM: Globally, 44 per cent believed the UK was already outside of the EU. There was a high awareness of the EU referendum (70 per cent knew it had taken place). Of those who were aware of the EU referendum or unsure if the referendum took place, 71 per cent were aware that the UK had voted to leave. Globally, 47 per cent had ‘no opinion’ or thought the referendum made ‘no difference’ to the UK’s overall reputation.
STUDY: When asked about the impact of Brexit on plans to study in the UK, 30 per cent of EU respondents said they were less likely to do so, five per cent said they were more likely. In Commonwealth countries 16 per cent said they were more likely and 15 per cent less likely. In the rest of the G20, 17 per cent said more likely and 14 per cent less likely.
BUSINESS: When asked about the impact of Brexit on plans to do business in the UK, 32 per cent of EU respondents said they were less likely to do so, six per cent were more likely. In Commonwealth countries and in the rest of the G20, 17 per cent were less likely and 15 per cent more likely.
Mona Lotten, of the British Council Insight team which led the survey, said: “One event alone, even if viewed negatively by people abroad, is not enough to permanently dent the overall attractiveness and reputation of a well-regarded country like the UK.
“But our national debate and the manner in which we leave the EU are being scrutinised by the rest of the world – we must now invest more in our cultural and educational connections in Europe and across the globe to ensure the UK maintains and grows its position on the world stage.”
The full report will be published in early 2017.