There have been some pro-Brexit politicians that claim the Civil Service is against Brexit:

Civil servants will "do their best to frustrate" Brexit, Lord Lawson has said in an interview with BBC Newsnight.

Source: BBC

The Civil Service is meant to deliver an apolitical service. Having said this, they are human beings who will have their own (private) political opinions.

I would like to know, have there been any opinion polls broken down by job category that indicate whether the Civil Servants are for or against Brexit?

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    I think Lawson's point was more that the civil service is conservative and largely risk-averse. One of the things he said was "civil servants will implement radical change only if they are given strong political direction.", which is to my mind a largely uncontroversial view. It's more 'I see a lot of risks in this, so am going to avoid doing it if at all possible' than 'I voted against it, so am going to work to prevent it'.
    – richardb
    Apr 8, 2018 at 10:13
  • @richardb I agree, but isn't this an answer rather than a comment?
    – arboviral
    Jul 2, 2018 at 7:36

3 Answers 3


I have not seen any polls that are specific to Civil Servants. But I have seen reports which suggest that senior officials in the Treasury, the Foreign Office etc are mostly opposed to Brexit.

This is perhaps not surprising since most well-educated people were opposed to it. For example the attached chart will show that only 27% of people with post-graduate degrees voted to leave.

And among people with a household income of more than £60,000 only 35% voted leave.

As regards people lower down the hierarchy in the Civil Service, I have seen nothing which suggests they voted any differently to their peers elsewhere. However since a very large number live in London, where the Remain vote was predominant, it is probably safe to assume that most voted that way.

Lord Lawson would undoubtedly have hit the nail more firmly on the head, had he said that most of Britain's educated classes (including Civil Servants) will do all they can to frustrate Brexit.

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    The start of this answer is interesting but the conclusion is worded slightly strongly - saying that they will frustrate brexit because they voted against it is rather unfair. By extension of this it would be fair to say the civil service will frustrate other things its members voted (or would have voted) against I suspect if this was true we would have heard about it before repeatedly. Apr 3, 2018 at 16:35
  • I think your reasoning makes sense, assuming that the staff recruited to the civil service are representative of the rest of the population from where they are recruited from.
    – user7809
    Apr 4, 2018 at 8:07
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    What Lawson wants from Brexit might not be within anyone's ability to obtain. I'm not aware of evidence that Civil Servants will not do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
    – Lag
    Apr 4, 2018 at 12:00

Taking @WS2's answer, I've weighted the remain vote by region (BBC) by the percentage of Civil Servants by region (ONS, taking out 'overseas'. This sums to 97.7% without 'overseas' and 98.7% with 'overseas').

Assuming Civil Servant's votes are representative of the votes cast in their regions, then 48.4% of Civil Servants voted to remain, compared to 48% in the general population.

I could've weighted by other variables (age, salary etc.), but I think I would get a similar result using the highlighted assumption.


TLDR; Brexit is a large task while it has ostensibly gained support of a vast majority for politicians it is still a large political and administrative task and the civil service is the easiest scapegoat for the apparent lack of tangible progress.

I appreciate this questions is about the opinion of the civil service however, I suspect the the quote is more about political issues and the civil service is being used as a smoke screen.

Firstly it should be noted that pro-brexit politicians and some pro-brexit general public have been peddling the idea that the UK can simply get up and go when it pleases with no problem. This makes the argument that the civil service is messing about very easy because we're still here but yet politicians have agreed to leave. Also there are some people who feel that the result of the vote should have meant instant departure.

Secondly, the brexit department may be headed up by Britain's most staunch brexiteers (or not) with the sole objective of leaving the EU but it can't just leave on its own. Leaving requires all departments to do something, even if the civil service is performing optimally this still requires ministers to take action including those ministers that openly wish to remain and those that are still waiting for the dust to settle before fully committing themselves either way.

Thirdly the civil service is a massive bureaucracy and in general unless there is some kind of major emergency parliament is also rather slow. This is in contrast to brexiteers who want to get things done while they still have some momentum and before people have lost too much interest. Also the quicker they can get brexit to happen the less bad news it can generate before it happens and therefore the less chance of a reversal or second referendum.

As you can see irrespective of civil servants personal feelings there are a lot of issue that have to be overcome both in political and administrative terms. The civil service are simply an easy scapegoat to avoid having to face larger issues

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    I'm sorry, but this is not answering the question that was asked.
    – Philipp
    Apr 3, 2018 at 14:46
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    You make some good remarks about the wrong premises some (most?) Brexiters can have. But I don't see the OP making the same wrong assumptions. His question uses a quote as an introduction, but it is very clear, doesn't imply dubious claims, and can be answered with clarity.
    – Evargalo
    Apr 3, 2018 at 14:47
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    @Evargalo I see what you mean this was perhaps a poor choice of words.@Philipp I agree this doesn't answer the questions about pols but it does explain why the person said that quote even if there is no evidence of it being the case. If this is insufficient your welcome to delete the answer Apr 3, 2018 at 14:59

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