Britain’s vote on European Union membership on Thursday (23 June) is set to split regions against regions, with Scotland and the main cities expected to back remaining while the English countryside votes out.
“Provincial England versus London and the Celts” is how one pollster, YouGov’s former president, Peter Kellner, has described it.
The pro-EU regions
London: With 8.6 million inhabitants, London is a world city and polls indicate it will vote approximately 60% in favour of Britain remaining an EU member.
London is one of the world’s major financial centres, and is mostly pro-EU. The UK’s capital city is also a cosmopolitan metropolis, where 37% of the population is foreign born.
Ron Johnston of the University of Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences told AFP that the places most likely to vote in favour of the EU are “the more cosmopolitan places… people who have greater experience of Europe, dealing with the EU, better educated”.
Other cities are similar to London, according to YouGov research.
“Many of the Europhile areas are university towns with lower median ages – Liverpool, Manchester, York and Bristol,” the polling company has said.
Scotland: Of the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom, Scotland is by far the most in favour of the European Union. A recent Ipsos MORI poll showed support for the EU at 64%.
“Scotland is different in part because it traditionally had closer links with Europe, especially with France,” said Johnston.
“Scotland has always been slightly more cosmopolitan.”
The Scottish National Party has harnessed Scotland’s support for the EU in its campaign to achieve independence, Johnston said.
“London, Scotland and Northern Ireland are likely to be the regions most opposed to Brexit, while the highest levels of support for Brexit look likely to come from the English heartlands,” said Charles Pattie of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography.
“Wales looks intriguing – not as pro-Brexit as much of England, but more pro-Brexit than Scotland or Northern Ireland,” he added.
The pro-Brexit heartlands
Provincial England: The heartland of support for a so-called Brexit is the English countryside. These are the areas that feel most threatened by immigration and pressure on public services.
A rising population threatens the so-called “Green Belts” of countryside that surround large cities in Britain, the pro-Brexit campaign has warned.
“Mass immigration will see cherished Green Belt land replaced with roads and housing developments in order to cope with the huge influx of people,” said Chris Grayling, a Conservative lawmaker who is the leader of the House of Commons and an advocate of leaving the EU.
“The highest levels of support for Brexit look likely to come from the English heartlands – and especially from a swathe of districts down the English east and south coasts and through the Midlands and some of the older industrial towns of the north,” Pattie said.
These places are most convinced by the anti-EU argument that immigration from the rest of the bloc depresses wages, pushes house prices up, and overwhelms schools and health services, Johnston said.
“They are the ones who are scared by the threat of immigration,” the professor said.
Seaside towns: The declining towns on Britain’s coasts are eurosceptic strongholds, and a primary source of support for the anti-immigration UK Independence Party. UKIP’s only elected lawmaker, Douglas Carswell, represents Clacton on the east coast.
“With a few exceptions like Brighton most British seaside resorts are run down,” said Johnston, as the once-popular destinations have suffered from the advent of cheap air travel.
Business owners and tourists have been replaced by an ageing population, which is often unskilled and predominantly white.
“They house a lot of people who are overspill housing from places like London where they can’t afford,” Johnston said.
Though these areas see less immigration that major cities, concern about it is a primary driver for those in favour of Brexit.