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Expert View

Majority of voters, even Leavers, don’t want blind Brexit

by Peter Kellner | 02.09.2018

Peter Kellner is former president of YouGov.

Like Crossrail, the Brexit negotiations are slipping behind schedule. But whereas the delays to Crossrail are unlikely to wreck the entire project, Brexit is a time-critical venture. It may be impossible to complete a detailed withdrawal agreement in time for the UK to leave the EU next March.

This would present Brexiters with two options – delay withdrawal; or sign a “blind Brexit” agreement, which leaves the UK’s long-term relationship with the EU uncertain, perhaps for some years.

Delay is, understandably, anathema: if we miss one target date, what assurance is there that we won’t miss another… and another…? Hence the growing murmurs that, to depart the EU on time, all the tricky bits of the withdrawal agreement may have to be fudged.

How do voters view this prospect? The latest YouGov survey for the People’s Vote Campaign found out.

Fully 72% regard it as either “very” (50%) or “fairly” important (22%) to “know the terms and consequences of Brexit before a final decision is taken to leave the EU”. Only 11% say either “not very” (7%) or “not at all” important (just 4%). Not surprisingly, those who voted Remain two years ago overwhelmingly want to know the terms and consequences of leaving the EU. But, significantly, Leave voters also reject a blind Brexit by three-to-one (65% to 21%).

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The survey finds that it’s not just buying a pig in a poke that voters object to. In large numbers they also reject the argument that, by extending the negotiation process beyond next March, Britain would have a stronger bargaining hand. This view is shared by just 12% of voters – a number that rises no higher than 25% among Leave voters. Three times as many voters overall, 36%, think our negotiating position would be weaker.

Add in those who say our bargaining hand would be much the same – either “strong anyway” (16%) or “weak anyway” (14%), and those who anticipate a blind Brexit leaving the UK with a weak hand outnumber those who expect a strong hand by almost two-to-one (50% to 28%).

A wider point flows from the latest survey. Although Remain supporters have now pulled ahead of Leave supporters (by 53% to 47%, excluding those who don’t know or would not vote), the contest is still, plainly, very close. However, none of the three main alternatives for going through with Brexit seem to be popular.

Chequers: The government’s compromise is the least popular option when people are given a three-way choice: remain, government compromise or no-deal Brexit. Again excluding those who don’t know or would not vote, 52% back staying in the EU, 33% no-deal Brexit, 16% compromise. Even Conservative voters, who might be expected to display some loyalty towards Theresa May and her ministers, prefer the stance taken by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson. For these voters, a no-deal Brexit (55%) is the most popular option, followed by remain (24%). The Chequers plan (21%) comes last.

No-deal Brexit: When the second choices of those who back the compromise are counted, remain beats no deal by a comfortable 12-point margin – 56-44%. In conventional election terms a 12-point victory counts as a landslide.

Blind Brexit: as we have seen, this is almost as unpopular with Leave voters as Remain voters. People want to know what is coming down the track, whichever side they are on.

Put these things together, and if I were a Leave campaigner I would be worried that there is more downside than upside in the current 47% support for Brexit. Two years ago, one element of the Leave victory was that, apart from its much-criticised pledge on NHS spending, it offered little more than warm, vague generalities about the UK “taking back control” and enjoying a more contented future. The campaign successfully invited voters to imagine their own version of the coming Brexit nirvana.

That studied vagueness is no longer a plausible campaigning strategy. Even so, some voters still seem to back Brexit on the basis that it will take the particular form that appeals to them most. Some are bound to be disappointed, for this autumn, we shall end up with just one version. Government ministers must be far more persuasive case than they have managed so far if the pro-Brexit vote is not to shrink further.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

2 Responses to “Majority of voters, even Leavers, don’t want blind Brexit”

  • It was suggested in the Observer today that, regarding our “leading” politicians, there seems to be a correlation between Brexit enthusiasm and incompetence. Putting that to a brief and unscientific test, I note that the leading Brexiteers include Fox (very chequered history), Johnson( waffler, shallow and lazy), IDS (serial resigner…author Credit scheme), David Davis (of “excruciating detail” fame. There was none), Grayling( another serial failure…ask him about the trains), Rees-Mogg (comfortably the Greatest Living British Fossil). Although it was not a serious comment, there could be a link between those who want to exit because they never managed to succeed in the present system and hence yearn for change. We need a psychologist to resolve this serious issue.