Rising inequality in the UK and the political economy of Brexit

Lessons for policy

Policy Brief


The EU Referendum in the UK on 23 June laid bare long existing divisions in the country. A very divisive campaign for leave deepened the scars in the society further. After decades of deindustrialization, rising inequality, deteriorating working conditions, loss of voice, followed by the Great Recession and austerity, the majority of the working people felt the only way to express their discontent about their living and working conditions is to vote to leave. Throughout the campaign, the leave side diverted their discontent to a scapegoat of immigration and fuelled xenophobia. Various Brexit campaigns created an illusion that conditions can only improve if Britain takes control of its borders, which they claimed to be impossible as a member of the European Union. According to survey evidence fears of immigration are more pronounced among voters in a more vulnerable position in the labour market, and in the post-industrial north-eastern towns, with also a clear divide between generations, with around two-thirds of the over 55s voting to leave and 70 per cent of the under 25s voting to stay (Hobolt, 2016; Ashcroft, 2016; Burn-Murdoch, 2016). The disenfranchised communities did not feel that they have anything more to lose due to the economic risks of Brexit or loss of workers’ rights under a conservative exit scenario, which sadly is likely to prove wrong.

Read policy brief

Find all related publications

Social Europe: From vision to vigour

FEPS Primer series - Björn Hacker

The macro-economic impact of the cost crisis

Lessons for Europe

The political economy of migration policies


Communicating on migration

Policy Brief series
Find all related Progressive Post
Progressive Post

Is it time to turn down the volume on the migration debate?


Leuven, a sustainable city with a focus on citizens’ participation


Pedalling towards progress

Almeirim's vision for sustainable mobility and community well-being
Find all related events
Expert meeting (online)

Boosting Economic Democracy

The theory behind the practice
European Parliament (Hybrid)

A blueprint for a Social and Green Deal

Follow-up Event of the Beyond Growth Conference

The future of work in Europe

Implications for equity and growth in Europe
Find all related news

Call for Tender – Research on Migration

Research on the implementation of the New Pact on Migration after its adoption, or on the consequences of non-adoption 

Economic Democracy

FEPS has launched an initiative on Economic Democracy

Tax the rich

A European Citizens' Initiative

Call for tender – Researcher on inflation

This call for tender closed on 03/10/23
Find all related in the media
In the media

Is it time to turn down the volume on the migration debate?

by IPS Journal 13/11/2023
IPS Journal article about FEPS policy briefs 'Communicating on migration'

Socialistas europeos reclaman que la Europa social sea la prioridad de la futura Comisión

by EuroEFE 09/11/2023
'European socialists demand that social Europe be the priority for the future Commission' article about the 'Champions of progress: Progressives go the extra mile for Social Europe!' side event organized by FEPS and PES

“Trade doesn’t work in isolation from good domestic policies” Interview to Arancha González

by Borderlex 19/09/2023
Interview to Arancha González, former Spanish foreign minister, who released together with FEPS the new book entitled 'The Trade Handbook: Making Trade Work for Prosperity, People and Planet'

A szociális unió imperatívusza

by Új Egyenlőség 09/09/2023
'The imperative of Social Union'. Article about FEPS book 'Europe’s Social Integration: Welfare Models and Economic Transformations' by László Andor.