Leader Comment: Single market should be on table

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IN the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum, participants on both sides of the argument insisted that the time had come for people to accept the result and move on.

That this might easily happen was always the most fanciful notion. Even now, feelings remain strong among both leavers and remainers and, with less than a year until the UK departs the EU, there is little sign of the unity political leaders – on the Leave side, particularly – have encouraged.

A new Brexit poll has shown Britain would narrowly vote to stay in the EU if a new referendum was held next week. Picture: Emmanuel Dunand

A new Brexit poll has shown Britain would narrowly vote to stay in the EU if a new referendum was held next week. Picture: Emmanuel Dunand

A massive online survey on Brexit – completed by 200,000 readers of Johnson Press, Trinity Mirror and Newsquest websites – suggests that if the referendum was rerun tomorrow, the Remain campaign would this time secure victory with a result of 51-49. Almost 17,000 of those who participated live in Scotland and their responses highlight the deep insecurity that remains about the implications of an all-bridges-burned hard Brexit. Among those readers, 64 per cent believe Britain would be better off economically inside Europe while 67 per cent felt Britain should remain part of the single European market. The UK-wide picture is a little more comforting for ardent Leavers but even then a majority – 52 per cent – believe the economy would be best served by remaining in the EU.

Since the referendum there has been a great deal of heat around the sort of Brexit which might take place, will it be “hard” or “soft”? Unfortunately, there has been precious little light during this debate. It is not, even now, at all clear whether the UK will be able to tailor any of the conditions of Brexit to suit what is considered to be the national interest. In the aftermath of every speech on the subject she makes or every meeting she has with EU counterparts, the sense that Prime Minister Theresa May is feeling her way in the dark on this issue lingers. Since her early statement that Brexit means Brexit, the Prime Minister has failed to clearly describe her vision of the UK’s relationship with the EU and its institutions after March 2019.

We accept that the survey which has thrown up these results was not conducted under the same conditions as conventional opinion polling but the sheer size of the sample involved means the findings have credibility. Those who continue to argue against any effort to strike workable deals on the single market and the customs union should pay heed to the majority who feel very differently, indeed.