Sheffielders say they feel more British than English now

More people in Sheffield are identifying as British than before the EU referendum, figures suggest, while fewer say they are English.
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That’s according to the Office for National Statics Annual Population Survey, which asks a sample of local people how they would describe their national identity.

The survey shows 65% of people in Sheffield identified as British in the year to June 2020, up from 44% four years earlier, in the run-up to the EU referendum.

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But Englishness is on the decline – 45% said they were English, compared to 62% in the year to June 2016.

Residents leaving after placing their 2016 EU referendum votes at Dore and Totley United Reform ChurchResidents leaving after placing their 2016 EU referendum votes at Dore and Totley United Reform Church
Residents leaving after placing their 2016 EU referendum votes at Dore and Totley United Reform Church

In the survey, people can identify as British, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh or “other”. Respondents can choose as many options as they think apply to them, so could opt for English and British.

The shift in Sheffield was reflected across England as a whole – while the proportion who felt they were British rose from 49% to 56% over the period, those opting for English dropped from 52% to 47%.

Professor John Denham, director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Southampton, said it was in line with other recent surveys.

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“It is not clear why this has happened but one significant factor is likely to be age,” said Prof Denham.

“It has been the case for some time that younger generations have been more likely than older residents to emphasise their British identity.”

He said there was a misconception that English identity had been on the rise in recent years which was partly driven by Brexit.

“The myth came about because national identity became politically salient in a way it never had been before,” he added.

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“Those who emphasised their English identity were much more likely to vote Leave, and those who emphasised Britishness were more likely to vote Remain.”

But he pointed out that other surveys show around eight in 10 people identify as both.

Sheffield voted 51 per cent in favour of Leave – and the argument is still raging in The Star’s letters pages.

Sunder Katwala, director of the independent think tank British Future, agreed that the trend was partly driven by generational differences.

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But he added that it could suggest a reversal of a previous surge in English identity after the transfer of political powers to the other UK nations.

“From the late 90s onwards, there was a desire to see Englishness recognised and represented because people felt it had been left out,” said Mr Katwala.

“I think what we’re seeing here is something of a balancing effect, where people are wary of an argument that we should be English and not British.”

He added: “Many people will hold multiple and fluctuating identities depending on events – a lot of people in England will feel very English in June when the Euros come to Wembley but break out the Union Jack for the Olympics in August.”

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.

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