A ward-level BBC analysis of the 2016 EU referendum pointed out these patterns of Asian vote in London, breaking with the national trend:

White populations were generally more pro-Leave, and ethnic minorities less so. However, there were some interesting differences between London and elsewhere. [...]

Only one point [...] stands out - this is Osterley and Spring Grove in Hounslow, west London, a mainly ethnic minority ward which had a Leave vote of 63%. While this figure does include some postal votes, they are not nearly enough to explain away this unusual outcome.

In fact, in Ealing and Hounslow, west London boroughs with many voters of Asian origin, the ethnic correlation was in the other direction to the national picture: a higher number of Asian voters was associated with a higher Leave vote.

But there's not anymore in-depth explanation in that article for this unusual pattern of Asian vote in Greater London. So, why did Asians in these London areas break with the national trend on ethnic minorities, when it came to the Brexit vote? Is there any other correlation with some explanatory power for these London minorities, or (better) any polling among them why the preferred Brexit?

There's another analysis which says that most EU migrants were concentrated in London areas, so I guess the Asians in this area might have felt higher competition from EU migrants, but it's hard to say without additional data...

  • 1
    Do you have data on how 'big' this pattern is? How many voters are there in these two boroughs and how for away from a more 'usual' voting pattern are they? Maybe a single local well known person convinced 50 or 100 people to vote the other way and this is essentially a random fluctuation?
    – quarague
    Dec 17, 2019 at 13:38

1 Answer 1


According to LSE analysis, the Asian "concentrations" (as opposed to minorities more generally) voting pattern was actually rather consistent for Leave, across the UK:

Outside London, nearly every constituency with a double-digit South Asian population voted Leave. Luton has a 25 percent Asian population; Leave won there with a 19 percent majority. Places like Pendle, Oldham, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton also have high South Asian populations and voted Leave with large majorities. The only exception was Leicester, with its 30 percent Asian population – narrowly a Remain town, with a 2 percent majority.

While they don't have a formal poll in these areas, some anecdotal evidence does seem to point to Asians feeling pressure from EU migration indeed:

What about South Asians in London, a city that generally voted Remain? For me, the most interesting case is Newham, where I have lived for over a decade. Since 1991, the ethnic minority population has increased 128 percent and, at present, the South Asian population accounts for somewhere between 36 to 38 percent. Newham has a white British population of 16.7 percent – the lowest proportion in England and Wales. Remain won in Newham with only a six percent majority – slim for London.

For months before the referendum, everyone I spoke to in Newham – the local grocer; the Asian barbers; the chicken shop employees; the restaurants owners; estate agents; the underpaid workers; the tax-avoiding shop owners – supported Brexit. The arguments were the same: the rent prices, the NHS, the benefit cuts. The blame: immigration. More than this, there was the hope that once European migration stops, migration from South Asian countries can restart. It is a fight for resources between immigrants. Even though many first generation immigrants are overworked and underpaid, it’s better than the alternative. In the words of the British economist Joan Robinson: “The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.”

Brexit means the loss of “freedom of movement”, but it is also a loss of European identity. [...] A loss of European identity doesn’t mean much to a South Asian barber. What about freedom of movement? You mean border controls? Well, “we are used to it”.

[...] Maybe it’s about fairness, then? A Bengali first generation immigrant, now a British citizen, told me that Brexit is “about equality”. What kind of equality? “Why is it that we have to suffer, pay thousands of pounds each year to extend our visa, face work restrictions, stay here for years, and only after that – after spending so much money and time – we get rights? And the Eastern Europeans get it straight away.”

Some pre-referendum interviews in the Guardian highlighted similar feelings:

Referring to himself as an Anglo-Pakistani, Mahmood is aware of the irony – coming from an immigrant family, he now wants to pull up the drawbridge on others. He says, however, that all his views are valid. “We have worked so hard to earn the right to live here and we contribute to the communities. What we don’t want is more people coming in who won’t bring anything positive and will just take,” he says. [...]

Research by the Runnymede Trust, a race relations thinktank, recently revealed that many BAME people are “ambivalent about the benefits of the EU”. A report said: “They appear less likely to take advantage of free movement [very few move about for work and arguably feel less ‘shared identity’ with others in Europe].

“Some view Europe in explicitly ethnic or racial terms, identifying fortress Europe as a way of keeping out non-white immigrants while allowing significant levels of.”

Interestingly and contrasting with these however is that overall

Two thirds (67%) of those describing themselves as Asian voted to remain

So there are probably some details that we're still missing (assuming the data/claim on "double-digit" Asian concentrations voting for Brexit is correct. I have some doubt on that because the data/claim isn't clearly about the Asian minorities in these areas, i.e. it could be that the white voters more overwhelmingly voted for Leave in these areas with "double-digit South Asian population"...)

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