Key issue for Brexiteers in the historic EU referendum battle

Immigration was the key issue for Brexiteers in the historic EU referendum battle, according to a huge analysis of social media.

A groundbreaking study of nearly three million tweets by a team at the University of Sheffield shows control of borders came up far more than sovereignty or the NHS.

It was mentioned 66,000 times by Leave supporters between June and November – with the overwhelming majority of the references coming before the vote on June 23.

By contrast Remain backers talked about the issue just 40,000 times.

The findings also demonstrate how little attention was paid to the details of Article 50 – the formal mechanism for cutting ties with Brussels – before the referendum.

It was tweeted about just 750 times by those on either side of the debate.

The research, highlighted by Buzz Feed News, identified 41,443 Leave supporters and 41,445 who were in favour of Remain based on their use of campaign hash tags.

The team then tracked the Brexit-related issues those users tweeted about every day for six months.

The analysis emerged as a poll increased pressure on Theresa May by suggesting Leave voters will not tolerate losing out financially.

Research by YouGov for the Open Britain campaign group found 51 per cent are not willing to be left a penny worse off as a result of cutting ties with Brussels.

The level rose to 59 per cent in the North – although a significant proportion was ready to take a hit if necessary to regain control over borders and law.

The findings underline the scale of the challenge facing the Prime Minister as she prepares to launch negotiations with the EU.

Mrs May has repeatedly refused to give details of her demands, but insisted she can secure a ‘Red White and Blue’ Brexit tailored to the country’s needs.

There has been intense lobbying from the City of London and other sectors to keep the UK within the single market.

There are fears that failing to do so would put at risk so-called ‘pass porting’ arrangements for doing business on the continent – and possibly trigger an exodus of financial firms.

But European leaders have made clear they are not willing to compromise on the principle that members of the single market must accept free movement of people within the bloc.

Ministers have stated that regaining control over immigration will be one of their red lines in the process to come.

A carelessly-carried note of a briefing captured by cameras in Downing Street last month described the government’s approach as ‘have cake and eat it’.

It suggests that Mrs May is preparing to play hardball in the looming talks, using the vital importance of the British market to the EU as leverage.

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