Bregrets, They’ve Had A Few
A new poll shows that a majority of the British public believes that the Brexit referendum was a bad idea. What that means for the future of Brexit is not at all clear.
As the United Kingdom rushes toward yet another Brexit deadline that many in London are already talking about punting on again, a new poll shows a majority of Brits regret the decision the leave the European Union and think the initial Brexit referendum was a bad idea:
Among Labour voters, 72 percent think the referendum should never have been held, while only 18 percent said it was the right thing to have done.
The poll also shows Nigel Farage’s new Euroskeptic Brexit Party performing well among Brits. In a national vote, the Brexit Party polls third with 17 percent of the vote, behind Labour on 33 percent and the Conservatives on 26 percent.
For the European Parliament election, the poll puts the Brexit Party joint first with the Labour Party, both with 28 percent of the vote, and double the level of support for the Conservatives (14 percent). The pro-Remain Change UK would receive just 7 percent of votes, according to the poll.
POLITICO’s aggregate of national polls for the European Parliament election puts the Labour Party at 26.2 percent of the votes followed by the Brexit Party on 18.6 percent.
More from The Guardian:
More than half the public – 55% – now think it would have been better never to have held the EU referendum given the difficulties of reaching an agreement on Brexit, according to the latest Opinium/Observer poll.
Strikingly, more Conservative voters (49%) now think the referendum was a bad idea than believe it was the right thing to have done (43%).
Among Labour supporters, 72% believe it would have been better never to have staged the vote, while 18% say it was worthwhile.
The Conservatives are down 3 percentage points on 26% compared with a fortnight ago and continue to trail Labour (also down 3pts on 33%) by seven percentage points. Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit party, meanwhile, has established itself in a clear third place on 17%, having been included in the national poll for the first time.
The Liberal Democrats are down 2 points on 6%, the SNP unchanged on 5%, Ukip down 7 on 4%, the Greens unchanged on 4%, Change.UK (also included for the first time) is on 4% and Plaid Cymru is unchanged on 1%.
When voters were asked how they intended to vote in the European elections, the news was even better for the Brexit party.
Support for Nigel Farage’s new party and Labour stands level at 28% – double that for the Conservatives, on 14%. The pro-remain Liberal Democrats and ChangeUK parties both stand on 7%, while the Greens are on 6%, the SNP 5%, Ukip 3% and Plaid Cymru 1%.
If a second referendum were held between the options of leaving the EU on the prime minister’s deal or remaining in the EU, 46% say they would vote to remain (unchanged on a fortnight ago) while 34% would vote to leave (down 4%).
Nearly half of those polled thought Theresa May should resign either once the withdrawal agreement has been passed or sooner, with only 14% believing she should continue as prime minister and lead the second phase of the Brexit negotiations before resigning.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen signs that the British public was having second thoughts about leaving the European Union. As I noted in both October 2017 and February 2018, there was polling indicating that the British people were beginning to have second thoughts about Brexit and that there was building support for a second referendum, an idea which continues to be mentioned by Brexit supporters and opponents to this very day.
What all this means is hard to say, but for the moment at least it is unlikely to impact either the ongoing Brexit negotiations or the inevitability of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. Both the British government and the European Union have made clear that once the United Kingdom pulled the trigger on formally withdrawing from the European Union that there would be no walking away from the process and that it really wouldn’t be possible for Britain to take back its decision to leave the Union. That process began on March 29th when Prime Minister Thersa May invoked the provisions of Article 50 of the European Union treaty. At that point, the two-year clock started ticking and, at least for now, the formalization of the exit was to have been completed by March 29th, 2019. That date, of course, has been postponed. Originally that new deadline was supposed to have been roughly two weeks ago, but it has since been punted even further down the road to October 31st. It’s still unclear what the terms of that exit will look like, and there have been several months of political turmoil in London as Prime Minister May tries to come up with a deal that her own party will accept, which is proving to be exceedingly difficult. Additionally, there really isn’t any mechanism in British law for the decision to be reversed even it if were possible under the treaty. The law that authorized the government to go ahead with the referendum doesn’t contemplate any kind of a second vote that would attempt to reaffirm or overturn the results of the vote, and as previous polling has noted the British public seems to accept the reality that Brexit will happen regardless of what the terms of the final agreement or what the consequences for the United Kingdom might end up being.
At the same time, though, these polls do seem to reflect the fact that the reality of Brexit is starting to hit home with British voters and that, at least to some extent, the thought is starting to take hold that perhaps the decision to leave may have been just a bit hasty, or that there should have been some further consideration of the matter beyond the referendum that took place in June 2016 and resulted in a relatively slim majority choosing to leave the E.U. in a vote that brought roughly 72% of the U.K.’s registered voters to the polls. In the end, the margin in favor of leaving was just under 1.3 million votes, which was just about 2.7% of the total amount of people who voted and 1.9% of the total population of the United Kingdom. As I noted in the wake of the Brexit referendum itself, that leads to the question of why the vote authorizing the referendum didn’t require some form of supermajority in favor of leaving given the consequences that the decision would quite obviously have for the U.K. in the future. Those issues are in the past, of course, but these poll numbers do seem to indicate that at least some portion of the British public is beginning to think that the decision to leave the E.U. deserved more consideration than it actually received.
Of equal interest in this poll is what it has to say about the current state of British politics and the potential outcome of a hypothetical General Election. The fact that the conservatives are currently sitting in second place behind a Labour Party that continues to be mired in controversy due to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and with the new pro-Brexit party founded by Nigel Farage, who previously led the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), on their heels raises real questions about the political future of the Tories in general and the government of Theresa May specifically, who many observers do not expect to survive long after the Brexit saga is over even if the Conservatives manage to hold on to power. With respect to the upcoming elections to the European Parliament, the Brexit Party actually leads the Tories, which is odd only because it’s hard to understand why a party in favor of leaving the E.U. is even interested in running in elections for a government it opposes. With respect to the general election at least, though, it is worth noting that the Conservatives will not be required to call for a General Election until May 2022 at the latest so it’s possible they’ll be able to survive the current tumult, Additionally, since it seems likely that the Brexit situation will be resolved one way or the other well before 2022, Farage’s single issue party, which seems to consist largely of pro-Brexit Tories frustrated with May, likely won’t last very long.
All that being said, with the path to Brexit no clearer than it was a month ago, the fact that the British public seems to be coming to regret their decision could end up playing an important role in how things proceed. If more Brits come to believe that Brexit was a foolish idea to begin with and that the costs of leaving the E.U. far outweigh any benefits then the pressure on May, Corbyn, and others could increase. Whether that would be enough to stop a process that many consider inevitable at this point, ,though is unclear.