National Identity and Brexit

49 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2019 Last revised: 17 Jun 2020

See all articles by Peter Howley

Peter Howley

University of Leeds - Leeds University Business School (LUBS)

Muhammad Waqas

University of Bradford; University of Leeds - Leeds University Business School (LUBS)

Date Written: June 16, 2020


Recent research points towards immigration as one of the key drivers behind voting patterns in the UK referendum on EU membership (Brexit) as well as the rise of far-right populist parties throughout Europe. This paper puts forward differences in people’s conception of national identity as an important factor in helping us better understand why immigration is so important. Studies of national identity commonly distinguish between two conceptualisations: ethnic and civic. In the UK, both of these are common through ‘Englishness’ and ‘Britishness’ which offers us a unique opportunity to study the relevance of differences in how individuals construct their national identity in explaining the so called Brexit divide. Linking self-reported well-being data from the UK Household Longitudinal Survey with local labour market data from the Office for National Statistics, we first document a negative association between inflows of migrants into local areas and the subjective well-being of natives (UK born individuals) who think of themselves as English. We find no evidence, however, to suggest that those who identify as British feel adversely affected by immigration. Second, we show that even after accounting for socio-demographic characteristics, those who identify as English were substantively more likely to be in favour of leaving the EU.

Keywords: mental well-being, immigration, national identity, social identity

JEL Classification: I31, J11, A12

Suggested Citation

Howley, Peter and Waqas, Muhammad, National Identity and Brexit (June 16, 2020). Leeds University Business School Working Paper, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Peter Howley (Contact Author)

University of Leeds - Leeds University Business School (LUBS) ( email )

Leeds LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

Muhammad Waqas

University of Bradford ( email )

Bradford, West Yorkshire BD9 4JL
United States

University of Leeds - Leeds University Business School (LUBS) ( email )

Leeds LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics