In the run-up to Britain’s referendum on its membership to the EU in June, economists and analysts at the UK Treasury, the IMF, the OECD, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, among other institutions, warned that leaving the EU would harm the country’s economy.
Britain’s former justice minister Michael Gove, a leading figure in the campaign to leave the EU, dismissed these warnings, saying that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” Though Gove was heavily criticized for his anti-expert stance, it’s now clear he spoke for many.
A recent survey by the British Election Study asked both remain and leave voters whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “I’d rather put my trust in the wisdom of ordinary people than the opinions of experts.” Those who voted to the leave the EU were much more likely to agree with the statement, while those who voted to remain were more likely to disagree.
In the end, it didn’t really matter that the majority of economists warned leaving the EU would lead to economic harm, both in the short and longer term. Voters didn’t believe them.
Since the vote—but before the UK has started the process of extricating itself from the EU—some of these grim economic predictions have already started to materialize. Britain has been told to brace itself for a growth slowdown, whilst the pound keeps getting crushed (so much so that Unilever is treating the UK like a Latin American nation with a dodgy currency), and three-quarter of British CEOs are thinking of moving their business out of the UK.
Researchers also asked both remain and leave voters, “do you have any regrets about the way you voted in the EU referendum?” While the vast majority of both groups did not regret the way they voted after the referendum, 6% of so-called “Brexiters” did regret their vote.
That might seem a rather insignificant percentage, but 6% would have been enough to swing the referendum outcome.