GQR insights published over the past week show the scale of the political challenges of Brexit. For those hoping to see an economically rational, trade-preserving “soft” Brexit, there is some hope to be had in public opinion, but key aspects of such a deal face serious threats. Here are four opportunities and two threats that pro-EU campaigners should be aware of.
Concern about Brexit is rising
The context for the current round of talks is increased public concern about the consequences of Brexit. The proportion of voters saying they are more worried than hopeful about Brexit has risen from 41% in March to 47% now. Support for a second referendum that could keep Britain in the EU once the Brexit deal has been negotiated has also risen, although it still stands at only 34%. Strong Remainers will hope that as Brexit comes into focus through the talks, that concern solidifies.
Voters agree Britain needs a deal
We also found strong support for Britain to make a deal. Only 34% agree with the Prime Minister’s assertion that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” compared to 52% who agree that leaving without a deal “would be a disaster for Britain”.
Focus on trade and Northern Ireland
Trade is seen as more important than control. We described the European Economic Area as “the closest trading relationship possible with the EU”, and asked voters to choose between this and Britain having either more control over its laws, or being able to control EU immigration. In both tradeoffs, EEA membership was more popular, winning 51-34% over “stop accepting EU laws and regulations” and 48-37% over “full control over immigration from the EU”.
In a further sign of Brits’ reluctance to change the status quo, 47% said it would be unacceptable to introduce border and customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic, compared to only 31% saying this would be acceptable. Unlike most of our questions on Brexit, this result was consistent across Labour and Conservative voters – neither side wants to see a new hard border in Ireland. Even people who voted Leave in the referendum were evenly split on the issue.
Keeping EU regulations unlikely to be a problem
Our polling for CHEMTrust and SumofUs should set aside the notion that the Brexit vote was for an “offshore” Britain where companies can escape from EU regulations. We found strong majority agreement among both Remain (73%) and Leave (62%) voters that “There should be no reduction in regulatory standards that protect people and the environment from potentially harmful chemicals when the UK leaves the EU.” This mitigates in favour of Britain keeping the regulatory harmony with the EU that permits low-friction trade.
Legal jurisdiction is a challenge
The obstacles to Britain remaining in the EEA are big. British voters reject the continued jurisdiction of European courts, which are essential to regulating disputes between EEA members. 59% of Brits agreed that after Brexit, Britain should not be bound by the decisions of European courts, compared to only 25% saying the country should accept their judgments on disputes with EU organizations.
The bill is another stumbling block
Continued payments to the EU are desperately unpopular, and even if the government negotiates a big discount, it probably won’t be enough. A majority of 61% would reject paying the EU £50bn as part of a Brexit deal, while just 23% would pay. If the cost were just £30bn, 54% still would not pay compared to 29% who would.
It appears inevitable that most if not all voters will be disappointed with whatever form Brexit takes. Not only are Leave and Remain, Labour and Conservative voters’ demands different, they are also internally incompatible. There will be no close trading relationship with the EU without Britain accepting some influence from European courts; if we leave the EEA trade will suffer and there will likely be some form of new border controls in Ireland. Pro-EU campaigners and hard Brexiters are each trying to sell a package of some pain and some gain. Prepare for intense attacks from both sides, and for a long campaign: the Prime Minister’s push for a transition period after March 2019 means the final outcome will likely not become clear until 2021 or later.
Other coverage of this polling
CHEMTrust/SumofUs on chemicals regulations
o GQR: Data table
Politico coverage on Brexit
o Support grows for second Brexit vote: More than half of UK voters think a £30 billion Brexit divorce bill would be unacceptable.
o UK public rejects ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario, new poll results say: Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated her view that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ last week.
o Britain’s ‘have cake and eat it’ stance on Brexit: Leave and Remain voters are still deeply divided but agree on one thing — they don’t want to pay a Brexit bill (analysis).
o GQR: Data tables