Brexit Sentiments Remain Stronger Than Ever
(Bloomberg View) -- Outside of Britain it’s commonly assumed that the country regrets its decision to leave Europe. Indeed European Parliament Brexit Representative Guy Verhofstadt suggested recently that one day the U.K. might rejoin the EU. It’s also a view some inside Britain cling to as well; and yet there’s very little evidence to support it.
Ever since the Brexit vote in June 2016, staunch Remain supporters have explored various avenues to keep Britain in the 28-nation bloc. There has been talk of a new pro-EU center party in the mold of French President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche. There has been a steady stream of reports of new pro-EU parties -- most recently of one spearheaded by LoveFilm International Limited founder Simon Franks, with 50 million pounds ($72 million dollars) of funding.
Even with what is by non-U.S. standards a substantial budget, getting a new party off the ground is tough. The U.K. electoral system generally favors larger parties with geographically varied support -- as is the case with the Labour and Conservative Parties but not voting on Brexit, which was much more evenly spread. In the 2015 general election, the anti-Europe U.K. Independence Party polled 3.9 million votes but won just one of the House of Commons’ 650 seats.
The electoral system hurdles are before even considering whether demand for such a party exists among the 48 percent of Britons that voted to remain in the EU. Polling has suggested that a second referendum would be close, but has generally not shown majority support for holding one.
Last weekend saw the launch of a cross-party campaign for a referendum on the final Brexit deal before Britain actually leaves. That’s scheduled for March 29, 2019, and most polling has assumed that a vote on stopping Brexit could take place before then. If it can’t, though, how would people feel about reversing Brexit after the fact?
In a poll fielded between March 27 and April 5, we put the question to 1,037 eligible voters across the U.K. As a check on the accuracy of our sample, we asked them how they voted in the Brexit referendum and the 2017 general election; the result mirrored those results. We asked people to imagine it was 2020 and Britain had now left the EU. In that situation, how would they answer the following: Should Britain join the EU or not? In answer, 47 percent said that the U.K. should not join the EU, 31 percent said it should, with the remaining 22 percent undecided.
The 16-point margin against rejoining arises because of the way different groups of Brexit voters break. Of those that voted for Brexit, 84 percent would oppose joining, with only 4 percent supporting it. Of those who originally voted against Brexit, only 61 percent would support joining, with 16 percent preferring not to reverse the original decision. Those that didn’t vote in 2016 (including those who were too young) split fairly evenly between joining, not joining, and undecided.
People aren’t always good judges of how they’d feel in a hypothetical situation, but there is a reasonable chance the hypothetical will arise in this case so it is not difficult to fathom. What the poll highlights is the interaction between Brexit views and partisanship. Among 2017 Labour voters, very similar proportions of Remainers said they’d support rejoining (71 percent) as Leavers who say they’d oppose it (72 percent). But among Conservatives, 40 percent of Remainers would support rejoining, while 91 percent of Leavers would oppose it.
Those who wish Britain to be in the EU may have more luck persuading the public to stop Brexit -- provided they can find a suitable mechanism -- than to rejoin the EU later. Any future pro-EU campaign would need to do much better, particularly among Conservative voters, to have a chance of succeeding.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Matt Singh runs Number Cruncher Politics, a nonpartisan polling and elections site that predicted the 2015 U.K. election polling failure.
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