MORE people across Dorset are identifying as British than before the EU referendum, figures suggest, while fewer say they are English.

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 47 per cent of people in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole identified as British in the year to June 2020, up from 34 per cent four years earlier, in the run-up to the EU referendum.

But Englishness, while still the more popular answer, is on the decline – just over half said they were English, compared to 67 per cent in the year to June 2016.

In the Dorset Council area 46 per cent identified as British.

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 choose English and British as dual identities.

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

Professor John Denham, director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics, said the relative rise in British identity was in line with other recent surveys.

“It is not clear why this has happened, but one significant factor is likely to be age,” said Prof Denham, who runs the centre at the University of Southampton.

“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.

“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.

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

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."