NEWS7 December 2017

UK more pessimistic over Brexit outcome, finds NatCen

Brexit News Trends UK

UK – Research by Professor John Curtice for NatCen has found that despite increased pessimism over the outcome of Brexit negotiations, there has been no significant shift in opinion over what deal the country should be seeking.

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The report, launched yesterday ( 6 December) at a House of Commons event, outlines attitudes to Brexit at the ‘half-way’ stage between the date of the EU referendum and the date the UK is set to leave the EU – 29 March 2019. The survey of 2,200 was carried out after the election in July and in October.

Over half of those surveyed ( 52%) now expect a bad outcome from the Brexit negotiations, up from 37% in February, while the proportion of Leave voters who believe the UK will secure a good deal has dropped from 51% to 28%.

There is increased criticism over the way in which the government is handling the process – 61% of those surveyed say the government is handling negotiations badly, compared to 41% in February.

A fifth of Leave voters now expect the UK’s economy to be worse off after Brexit ( 21%), compared to 15% in February. Less than half ( 45%) of Leave voters think the economy will be better off, down from 54% in February.

Despite increased pessimism, however, there has been no significant shift in the balance of public opinion on what kind of deal the country should be seeking – 64% of respondents think that ‘people from the EU who want to come to live here’ should have ‘to apply to do so in the same way as people from outside the EU’, compared to 68% in February, for instance.

Additionally, the proportion who believe the UK should ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ allow freedom of movement for EU citizens in exchange for freedom of trade is 53%, compared to 54% in February.

When asked about how they would vote should the referendum now be repeated, 53% of participants said they would vote Remain, while 47% said they would vote Leave. However, according to the report, the proportion who now say that they would opt to remain in a hypothetical repeat referendum has stayed the same as it was in the first reading a year ago. So, while the findings suggest there may have been a two-point swing in favour of Remain since the referendum, there is no evidence that such a swing has increased in the wake of heightened pessimism over the negotiations.

Senior research fellow John Curtice said: “It might be thought the increased pessimism is primarily the result of Remain voters becoming increasingly disenchanted with the Brexit process. If so, then there would be no reason to anticipate that the increased pessimism might have changed the balance of opinion on what kind of Brexit the UK should be seeking. However, this is not what has happened. Rather, pessimism has become much more widespread amongst those who voted Leave.”

However, it should not be presumed that growing discontent with the Brexit process will persuade voters to change their minds about the type of deal the country should be seeking, or their view on leaving the EU at all, Curtice said. 

He added: “So far, voters seem inclined to blame the actors in the Brexit process for their perceived failure to be delivering what voters want rather than draw the conclusion that the act of leaving is misguided. A difficult Brexit could simply prove politically costly for Mrs May and her beleaguered government, rather than a catalyst for a change of heart on Brexit.”