How BME voters see the EU referendum and why we need to hear their voices

A newly released Runnymede Trust report reveals differing public attitudes amongst ethnic minority Britons on immigration and Europe. In the coming EU referendum, addressing the prevailing concerns of BME voters would substantially shape the debate.

Guest post by Eviane Leidig

A newly released Runnymede Trust report reveals differing public attitudes amongst ethnic minority Britons on immigration and Europe. In the coming EU referendum, addressing the prevailing concerns of BME voters would substantially shape the debate.

Runnymede overall found that most BME people are ambivalent about benefits of the EU. They are less likely to participate in free movement activities, whilst some consider Europe in predominately ethnic or racial terms, and thus view EU borders along these exclusionary lines.

At the same time, BME voters tend to express pro-EU sentiments due to concerns of nativism in the UK. EU sympathies reflect a perceived form of protection from discrimination and also an internationalist outlook.

We need to consider three key areas of the BME vote in the referendum: voting patterns, immigration discourse, and the benefits myth. This could have significant impact in influencing the outcome.

The first point of concern is that BME Britons are less likely to register to vote, leaving a considerable political participation gap. When asked about confidence in the electoral process, BME voters express less trust than their white counterparts.

If we break down BME voters even further, there are significant differences amongst ethnic groups, with Asians the most confident in the electoral system.


This lack of confidence in the British electoral system may be a major detriment in the much needed levels of participation in the referendum.

According to 2015 General Election surveys, BME voters are more likely to support the Labour party, which, as the latest data shows, favours the ‘Remain’ vote. Yet there are discrepancies within the BME vote according to class and geographical differences. Asians are increasingly shifting to the Conservative platform, a factor that should be considered as its party members are currently divided over the EU.

Secondly, immigration remains the defining issue of the British political agenda. But while over half of white Britons cite immigration as a top concern, according to a 2015 Ipsos Mori report less than a third of ethnic minorities share this sentiment. This is largely due to the way immigrants are portrayed as ‘good and bad’ in public discourse, shaping the debate on controlling EU migration.

BME voters feel like indirect targets of this narrative. There are, however, differential attitudes with older Caribbean and African voters and younger British born Pakistani and Bangladeshi slightly more resentful of EU migration. This may not be surprising, as British Future points out. Some BME voters could be naturally Eurosceptic, favouring links to Commonwealth values than the EU. But this does not necessarily translate to an ‘Out’ vote, as the Leave campaign prefers constructing a nostalgic image of Britain than its future.

Employment, as it relates to immigration, is the dominant concern for voters. Despite job anxiety amongst white voters, their BME counterparts do not view immigrants a threat to livelihood.


Again, class and geographical divisions are crucial, as they reflect deeply rooted patterns of immigration history. More settled and/or more economically secure ethnic minorities may be willing to maintain Britain’s continued relationship with the EU.

The last area for consideration is the role of benefits and resources for EU migrants. Although UK nationals are much more likely to claim benefits, it is a divisive topic amongst BME voters.

Nonetheless, in terms of resource pressures, in particular to racial discrimination within council housing, white Britons view themselves as more likely to be treated worse than ethnic minorities. The discussion surrounding benefits should therefore deter away from exaggerated claims of EU migrants as recipients, and instead focus on issues of integration and diversity.

Overall, there is a pressing need to encourage more ethnic minority Britons to vote, reshape the national conversation on immigration to address its alienating effects on BME voters, and remedy the misrepresentation of EU migrants as benefit seekers.

How will BME Britons vote in the referendum? The latest data compiled shortly after the election suggests high levels of favouring an ‘In’ vote.


But events during 2015 and in the immediate future could easily tip the scales. What is certain is that BME voters have immense potential impact in the outcome.

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16 Responses to “How BME voters see the EU referendum and why we need to hear their voices”

  1. lancastrian1

    “When asked about confidence in the electoral process, BME voters express less trust than their white counterparts.”

    That is probably due to a complacent assumption by white people that the electoral process is still the same old cozy system we had in the decades after WWII. That is no longer the case.

    As for the focus of this article on BME communities, it is the white working class that are getting the worst results at school and that are looked down on as young men.

    This I believe stems from the decades of political correctness and focus on diversity rather than integration. The climate over the last few decades has been far more likely to sap the morale and self esteem of the white working class than any other group. Money has been thrown at minority groups and ‘hate’ laws have been introduced to make criticism of other cultures and their practices a crime whilst the indigenous culture has been left to dangle in the gales of politically correct rhetoric that blasts out daily from our media, particularly that bastion of metro luvvies, the BBC!

    I sincerely hope the initiatives proposed by the Rowntree Trust fail miserably and we get the BREXIT that this country so badly needs.

  2. Sid

    Post early and post often !!!

  3. Brad JJ

    BME naturally favour immigration from outside the EU as it increases their numbers as a bloc with power.

  4. Jacko

    Translation of this article:

    “White people, who are generally better off and more politically aware, are much less likely to vote Labour, so it’s really a waste of time trying to speak to them. In order to regain power, it’s much more effective to get more non-white people out to vote. If we can increase immigration to get even more non-white people living in UK, we will have an even better chance of being elected. If anyone asks, we’ll focus on the economic benefits of immigration. If they still question it, we’ll call them racists.”

  5. Chris Kitcher

    Stupid prat.

  6. lancastrian1

    I’m not the one who can’t put forward a counter argument.

  7. Chris Kitcher

    If you are in favour of Brexit then you have demonstrated that you can’t put forward a counter argument. Ever thought what such stupidiy would do to the country. I for one don’t want to be part of a thrd world country which the Tories and the idiots in UKIP are racing toards.

  8. lancastrian1

    There is plenty of evidence that BREXIT will benefit the country as per links below. What is certain is that if we remain in the EU we will end up in an undemocratic superstate ruled over by the likes of Junker with Berlin pulling the strings in the background. The current refugee crisis caused by Merkel’s ill-thought out “let a million refugees come” is merely the latest example.

    The final point is, sovereignty and the ability to decide our own destiny is priceless.

  9. Chris Kitcher

    Not unbiased then. I suppose if you insist on reading right wing foolishness in the Torygraph and the Express then you are bound to end up with silly notions like yours.

    What you and all other Brexiters don’t realise the protection that we as individuals have from being part of the EU. Just look at how Camoron and his band of brats are treating the poor and vulnerable and then ask yourself who will be next when they have killed them off with their brutish policies. At least the EU protects all of us against their bullying.

    And then of curse there is the economic aspect which almost all of business, with the exception of a few self indulgent old style idiots, see as the only way forward for the UK

  10. Chris Kitcher

    Just checked out your references. One is no longer on the net, eureferendum, city am is a right wing rag edited by right wing journo’s and timcondom is UKIP. What a load of nonsense to base a major decision for the UK on. And I have already made known my thoughts on the other two rags.

  11. Intolerant_Liberal

    Yes, the tolerant liberals who call everyone Nazis and effing racists when anyone in anyway disagrees with them! Don’t mess with the liberal fascists of PC land!!!

  12. Rasta Man

    The independent article is worth reading though, did you read that?

  13. Chris Kitcher

    I didn’t see a reference to the Independent.

  14. Thanks Tank

    That does seem to be the way that the Labour party and the wider European left are going, banking on imported votes over those they see as blue tories.

  15. Thanks Tank

    One good argument for Brexit is that the Eurozone has chronic unemployment, near zero growth and no political vision to change its problems or the reasons behind it.

    Brexit can be looked at as leaving an inward and dying continental experiment and focusing on the rest of the world where growth opportunities are to be had.

  16. Chris Kitcher

    Other than a race to the bottom by competing with third world countries for a bowl of rice/millet a day as wages I can see no sane reason for exiting the EU.

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