WR7 The state of play August 2018

Anti Brexit in late summer

The summer parliamentary recess means Brexit is out of the headlines, apart from Boris Johnson, giving a chance to take stock. At national level activity is focussed on the People’s Vote petition launched after the June 23rd. The collection of signatures for the People’s Vote petition shows a steady growth, on Sunday 12th reaching 262,421 seven weeks after launch. This should reach half a million at least by October 20th. A second similar petition calling for another vote, launched by the Independent newspaper on  July 24th, aiming at a million signatures, had reached two thirds this total by 16th August- without being convincing.

The big picture is that while campaigning has had an impact on public opinion, this is not enough to create  brexitregret (Bregret) which some thought would happen, the voters remain deeply divided and Leave has not lost significant support. The 2016 result  of 52%-48 % for  Leave lead some Remainers into believing Remain could secure a 40%-60% balance of support for Anti Brexit over time.

Alas while the polls have moved slightly in favour of Remain, being stuck around 53% for Remain and 47% for Leave through the early summer, Leave support has remained strong, though there has been some impact of campaigning. This is shown by opinion polls over the last ten months.

The autumn of 2017  polls showed opinion moving on the  issue of whether the result was right – but not that it should be reversed. The  YouGov report of 27th October  showed that while their first 5 polls of 2017 on this issue showed voters splitting on the issue of the decision 46% in favour of Brexit and 42%  thinking it wrong, but the next 5 polls reversed to give 45% wrong and 43% right. About 12% of voters had no view. But the majority still thought it should go ahead – only 18% “wanted a second referendum” (it would be a third in fact) and 14% wanted Brexit abandoned,  giving 32% hard  Remainers. Leave scoring 52% including 12% wanting a soft Brexit  – and 16% had no view.

It appears that “Soft” option voters – some  12% – seemed to accept 2016 was a democratic decision which should go ahead. By the 2nd anniversary of the  2016 vote (23rd June) YouGov reported a small majority was opposed to Brexit in theory, but 53% still thought it should go ahead.  In this poll, YouGov reported that if Brexit did not go ahead 60% of Leave voters would feel betrayed. This factor may have influenced the People’s Vote decision not to call for a vote on Brexit, but only on  the Deal.

On the issue of  a second (or third referendum or People’s vote) Survation on the same date  said 48% wanted a vote on the final deal, 25% did not 18% said had no opinion and 9% did not know. In this poll, 35% of Leave voters would want a further vote, 66% of Remain voters. Thus 34% of Remain voters did not want a vote in June this year, reinforcing the view they thought 2016  should not be challenged.

However there has been growth in support for the People’s Vote. When YouGov first asked the question in April 2017. 45% to 37% had been opposed to another referendum once the terms of withdrawal are known. At that time only 31% supported what YouGov insist on calling a “Second referendum” and 48% wanted 2016 to remain the final decision.  By July 27th You gov found that for the first time a majority – 42% to 40% – of Britons wanted a vote on the terms of the Brexit Deal. So there has been movement, but it is worth noting  only 19% of Leave Voters were  in favour.

Nevertheless, support is growing which may have fueled  the  Independent call, well on the way to a million signatures. However the call for a three option referendum was not convincing, in part because the paper seeks a simple solution to visciously complex problems, believing a vote could heal deep divisions – it argued “a referendum is needed to bind up the wounds of the last two years”. This will not happen. If a NO to the Deal is voted through, it is most likely to happen because hard Remainers and Hard Leavers both vote against, and even in a YES vote both hard line camps would be unreconciled. While a Referendum is essential, there can be no illusions that the outcome would be sweetness and light.

In the last three weeks there have been no new polls, but a pattern has emerged. While scepticism about Brexit has grown, there is still no major thrust to reverse the vote. Secondly, support for a vote on the Deal – The People’s Vote (PV) formula – is ambiguous. It is not a vote against Brexit, and can be lost – there is no tide of Bregret  and confidence that this is a winner for anti- Brexit  is an error of judgement. Thirdly, the ‘democratic’ argument is a key factor in the strength of Leave. Whatever faults took place in 2016 and both sides are culpable, the outcome was the massive mobilisation of Leave voters. The vote cannot be dismissed and the argument for a new vote has to rest on firm democratic foundations.

The autumn will see these issues come to a head.


Trevor Fisher                                       16 08 18