Following the 2016 referendum on continued UK membership of the European Union, many attempts were made to explain its result. There has been consensus that the issue of immigration played a primary role in the Leave campaign and Brexiteers’ minds. The reasons for this anti-immigrant sentiment have been explored, with economic and cultural concerns at the fore of the literature. Critically, currently missing from the debate is whether racism played a substantial role in causing anti-immigrant sentiment in the context of Brexit. This article uses new public opinion data from 2018 to investigate the extent to which racism motivated the Leave vote. It found that racism was an important predictor of referendum vote choice, even when economic concerns were held constant. Among all levels of financial satisfaction, people respond to their sociological concerns when making a political determination about immigration. Despite efforts from elites at the fore of the Leave campaign to rid the debates of racism, exclusively economic arguments proved to be a façade for private racist attitudes of many Leave voters. While concern over cultural pluralism is likely a complementary factor, this article finds the link between anxieties over skin color and anti-immigrant sentiment.



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