Brexit: UK public still as divided as five years ago, says report

The UK is as divided on the issue of Brexit as it was five years ago during the referendum, a new report has found, with polls suggesting the Leave campaign would also win narrowly if there was a vote to rejoin the European Union.

The report by whatukthinks.org and the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) argues that in the general public’s view, Brexit has been “far from an unalloyed success”.

The research, led by Sir John Curtice, senior fellow at NatCen and professor of politics at Strathclyde University, suggests that if a second referendum had been held at any time in the past five years, there would most likely have been a narrow lead for Remain.

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It found those who did not vote in 2016 have consistently been twice as likely to say they would have voted Remain than that they would vote Leave.

A new report has found the UK to be as divided as ever on Brexit.
A new report has found the UK to be as divided as ever on Brexit.

However, some of those who say they were Remainers also say they would not vote to rejoin the EU.

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As a result, Prof Curtice said it was “estimated that a referendum held now on ‘rejoin versus stay out’ could well produce a narrow majority – 52 per cent – in favour of staying out.”

The research also found 82 per cent of those who voted in 2016 would cast their vote in the same way today as they did five years ago.

The report, based on a unique series of 12 surveys of 2,000 people across the UK between September 2016 and January 2021, found the public “remain resolute – and divided – in their views on Britain’s decision to leave the EU”.

And while only one in three who voted Leave feel positively about the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, according to another of the polls, 75 per cent of Leave voters still expect leaving the EU to result in either less immigration or a better economy.

Shortly after the UK-EU free trade deal was unveiled, just 21 per cent in Britain said the UK had left with a good deal, compared with 36 per cent who said the government had secured a bad deal – though that rose to 53 per cent among Remainers.

“In contrast, Leave voters were more likely to say that the UK has obtained a good deal – 35 per cent – than a bad one – 22 per cent,” said Prof Curtice. “Even so, this means that only just over one in three who voted Leave feel positively about the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

"Nevertheless, most Leave voters believe Brexit will deliver at least some of the benefit that they anticipated five years ago. Remain voters, on the other hand, are about as likely today to say the economy will be worse off as a result of Brexit, 83 per cent, as they were in September 2016 when it was 79 per cent.”

Prof Curtice added: “Five years on, it is difficult to argue that the Brexit referendum has been an unalloyed success.

"Approval of the deal reached with the EU is limited. Although few Leave voters regret their decision, equally few Remain voters have been persuaded that Brexit is a good idea after all.

"Britain is still more or less evenly divided on the issue, just as it was five years ago.”

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