Brexit, COVID‐19, and attitudes toward immigration in Britain Academic Article uri icon

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  • Objective

    A key issue in Britain's referendum on European Union membership was the free movement of labor into Britain, with Brexit "Leavers" having more negative attitudes toward immigrants than "Remainers." Such anti-immigrant attitudes are driven by feelings of threat. The coronavirus pandemic presented a new threat in the context of ongoing Brexit negotiations. This paper examines how the COVID-19 pandemic affected anti-immigrant attitudes and how these effects differ between Leavers and Remainers.


    Using an online survey in Spring 2020 of 3,708 individuals residing in the UK, we experimentally test the effect of priming COVID-19 thoughts on anti-immigrant attitudes, and examine whether this effect varies by Brexit identity.


    We show that COVID-19 may exacerbate anti-immigrant attitudes among Leavers while having little effect on Remainers.


    These findings support the idea that the coronavirus pandemic might have presented a new, viral, threat that heightened anti-immigrant attitudes among certain political identities.

publication date

  • September 2021