As the UK enters key stages of the Brexit negotiations with the European Union, recent poll data highlights the continuing deep divide over Europe with a significant minority of the population unsure of what they want or whether they are being led in the right direction.
GfK conducted an online poll for JGFR in March among 2,000 adults representative of the UK population aged 16+.
A number of statements were put to the public asking them whether they agreed with the statement or if it applied to them. These statements covered a range of topical issues surrounding Brexit and the democratic process. Overall, 97% of respondents answered positively to one or more of the statements including 3% who did not know.
With less than 10 months to go to Brexit day on March 29 2019 the public show little enthusiasm for celebrating Brexit or indeed awareness of the EU departure date.
Figure 1: “Brexit should be celebrated with a national holiday”, March 2018
Less than 1 in 5 of the public believe Brexit should be celebrated with a national holiday, despite the momentous shift in the UK’s political and economic future outside of the European Union. Nearly a quarter of over 55s support a national holiday, but only 12% of 16-34 year olds.
In the last JGFR Brexit Briefing in February the public were asked whether they agreed Britain would be leaving the European Union on 29th March 2019 when the 2-year period of Article 50 notice expires. Then just under a third of the public (32%) agreed with the date of Brexit, while just over two-thirds of adults (68%) were not aware of, not interested in, or not accepting the date of Brexit.
Figure 2: “The UK will be leaving the European Union on March 29th 2019”, March 2018
Compared to February, slightly more people (35%) agree that the UK will be leaving the EU on March 29 2019 with nearly a half of over 55s (48%).
The majority of the public still do not seem to be aware of the Brexit leaving date, or may believe that the date is flexible, with the existence of a transitional period meaning that Brexit in reality may be some way off, and indeed is still likely to be at the centre of the next general election campaigns.
More top earners (£50,000 or more household income) agree about the leaving date (43%) although across most segments a majority will not be interested, especially the under 35s.
Regionally a higher proportion agree the March 29 2019 leaving date in the North (38%) while a lower proportion (31%) agree in Scotland.
What sort of Brexit?
With the general acceptance that Brexit will happen, although the public are not clear when, the current focus is on getting the best deal for the UK.
What constitutes a good deal remains controversial, with both government and opposition divided between a position that enables the UK to forge its own way in the world, and one that seeks to benefit from being closely aligned to the European Union to enable frictionless trade in goods and services.
For many ardent Brexiteers going it alone has great appeal with the prospect of no deal enabling the UK to take back complete control. Such a view is supported by over 1 in 5 of the public.
Figure 3: “I support leaving the European Union with no deal”, March 2018
In Figure 3 support for no deal is found more among men and the over 55s and among lower earners (under £25,000 household income, not shown). Regionally nearly a third of people in Wales (31%) and more in the North (26%) support the no deal approach. Least support is found in Scotland (only 16% in support).
Figure 4: “I support an ongoing deep and special relationship with the European Union”, March 2018
Seeking a deep and special relationship with the European Union is one of the key objectives of the Prime Minister in the Brexit negotiations, although it is unclear as to exactly what it means in reality.
Around 3 out of 10 of adults agree with the Prime Minister, with most support in Figure 4 from men (33%) who across most EU issues are more responsive than women. Higher earners are the most supportive (38%); regionally more people living in the South (33%) seek a deep and special relationship with the EU but fewer in Wales (19%) or Northern Ireland (23%).
Figure 5: “With the likelihood of trade wars the UK is best to stay part of the EU single market and customs union”, March 2018
Following the election of President Trump in November 2016 a new era of politics and economics is underway, with policies designed to make America great again, through reducing perceived unfair trade imbalances by increasing tariffs, and shifting jobs and investment back into the US.
European countries are particularly sensitive to the imposition of new steel and aluminium tariffs with the June G7 summit ending in acrimony over the US approach. New EU tariffs on US goods are set to be announced which will pit the UK against the US with whom it is keen to negotiate an early trade deal.
An escalating trade war is a new factor in the Brexit jigsaw with EU membership providing a collective shield against aggressive US trade policy. Around a quarter of the public agree that for the UK economy it is best staying in the single market and customs union with around a third of higher earners in support.
The impact of Brexit
Moving along Brexit Road has already seen the mood of the public become more pessimistic and less confident, with short term growth forecasts lower than what they would have been without Brexit.
While there will be savings in contributing to EU budgets there will be an ongoing contribution to the EU for some time yet. Public finances have held up well to date but with the demand for health and social care rising, the costs of Brexit are an additional burden especially when restrictions on recruiting scarce NHS staff from abroad apply, although this is changing.
Figure 6: “The cost of implementing Brexit will restrict money and resources available to other public services”, March 2018
Around 3 out of 10 of the public (some 17 million adults, a similar number that voted for Brexit) believe the costs of implementing Brexit are squeezing public services from much needed money and resources. Day-to-day living for millions of people using public services is getting harder. This is one of only two statements that more women than men agree with.
Figure 7: “The Nation’s health and wellbeing is weakened by division and uncertainty over Brexit”
Just over a third of the public (around 17.7 million adults) agree that Brexit is taking its toll on the nation’s health and wellbeing , a situation that is likely to get worse as the date of leaving draws ever closer. Despite more over 55s generally supporting Brexit a higher proportion also view Brexit as having an impact on the nation’s health and well-being (37%).
Many people who will need to implement Brexit will be among higher earners and the stress of meeting deadlines / targets and adopting new work practices and meeting new regulations is likely to take its toll on health. 38% of people in households earning £35,000-49,999 and 45% of top earners over £50,000 support the statement.
Regionally most support for the statement is found in the South, Scotland and Wales (all 37%) with the lowest support in the North (28%).
Figure 8: “Being part of the European Union boosts Britain’s influence in the world” , March 2018
Being a key member of the European Union has enabled the UK to wield considerable influence in international bodies such as the United Nations and also to act as the gateway to Europe for many international businesses. Such influence has boosted the UK’s soft power which is coming under pressure from a number of countries.
Only just over a quarter of the public agree that being part of the European Union boosts Britain’s influence in the world, with over a third of people living in the South, and among high earners in agreement.
While the majority of the public do not agree with, or believe the statement applies to them, it is also likely that a majority of the non-responders are likely to have no view rather than believe that the UK will have more influence outside the EU; periodic YouGov polls take a net influence figure that shows a greater proportion of the public believing the UK will lose its influence outside the EU.
Brexit regrets and democracy
For many people the past two years have been ‘down’ years with politics far too intrusive. The feel-good factor built up in the last year of the Coalition government and into the first year of the Cameron Tory government has ebbed well away.
Figure 9: UK Feel-Good Index 2001-18
Brexit has been a major factor in the downbeat mood of the public reflected in the December GfK poll for JGFR that found 39% of adults wished Brexit had never happened. Around a half of the under 30s, students, graduates and people living in London and Scotland felt this way.
Figure 10: “I wish Brexit had never happened” March 2018
There is little change in support for the statement (38%) compared to last December (39%) with over 4 out of 10 young people under 30 agreeing with the statement (50% 16-18 year olds). Brexit is very much about young peoples’ futures producing the highest proportion of anti-Brexit sentiment. More people in the South (43%) support the statement with far fewer (33%) in the North. Among top earning households almost a half wished that Brexit had never happened.
In the previous Brexit Briefing in February ‘The Road to Nowhere’ further analysis highlighted the large minority of people (around 40%) who would not vote for either leave or remain if a Referendum was to take place. Far more under 35s are politically disengaged, and seemingly do not value having a vote. Recent YouGov polls show only between 55%- 60% of the public are likely to vote if a general election was held. In the latest YouGov /Times June (4/5) poll only 31% of 18-24 year olds would definitely vote compared to 70% of over 65s.
Figure 11: Voting intentions of the UK public, June 2018
With Europe still the most pressing issue for the public in the latest June YouGov poll of issues facing the country (58%) the country desperately needs to unblock the Europe impasse. Holding a second referendum is likely to be as close as the first Referendum given the narrowing of the latest YouGov/Times tracking poll and would further fuel the tensions across the country that Brexit engenders, with 44% of the public voting to leave and 44% also voting to remain.
The costs of Brexit continue to mount up with the health and well-being of the nation suffering and with no sense of any Brexit excitement as the day next March draws ever closer. In a rapidly changing world driven by unexpected events the time is now when the collective wisdom of constituent’s elected MPs rather than the minority will of the people (some 17.4 million out of some 52 million adults) is used to bring leadership and reassurance to a divided country in troubled times.
The current survey was conducted by GfK among 2,000 adults , representative of the UK population online between March 1 -16
Previous Brexit Briefing Papers have been produced by JGFR pre the Referendum and periodically in the 2 years since.
- More borrowers and savers favour staying in the European Union April 2016
- GDP growth up in Q2 but post-Brexit challenge to boost confidence July 2016
- Brexit on our mind September 2016
- Surge in inflation expectations deflates Brexit balloon and hits confidence November 2016
- Brexit means Brexit or does it November 2016
- A nation deeply divided March 2017
- Brexit fog thickens as Britons rethink their future on Europe September 2017
- Dense Brexit fog returns following some clearing December 2017
- Brexit blues affecting the public this winter January 2018
- The road to nowhere March 2018
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