Another Dose of Chequers? Voters’ Initial Reactions to the Draft Brexit Deal

Posted on 19 November 2018 by John Curtice

The announcement by the Prime Minister outside Downing St. last Wednesday that her Cabinet had collectively agreed to back the draft withdrawal agreement with the EU together with an outline political agreement on the UK’s future relationship with the EU has resulted a flurry of opinion polling. By Saturday morning, no less than six polls about the Brexit deal had been published, while Sunday saw the appearance of yet further readings, including the first post-deal polls to ascertain general election vote intention. Between them these polls represent the most intense round of polling about Brexit since the announcement of the Chequers agreement at the beginning of July, when the UK government outlined what it hoped the shape of Britain’s future relationship with the EU would be.

Chequers was widely regarded as a compromise between the hopes of those who had backed Remain and the aspirations of those who voted Leave. Now, even ministers acknowledge that the draft deal is also a compromise – in this instance between what the UK government would like and what the EU wanted. It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that the draft deal has so far been greeted by voters in much the same way as they responded to Chequers  – that is, with little enthusiasm, including not least from those who voted Leave.

Many voters yet to decide

True, one caveat should be acknowledged straight away. Despite the excitement and speculation at Westminster, many voters have yet to come to any very firm views about the deal. As many as 34% told Survation on Friday that they had not seen or heard anything about the Brexit deal (while another 6% said they did not know whether they liked it or not). In three polls it conducted on Thursday and Friday, YouGov found between 33% and 44% saying ‘Don’t Know’ in response to questions designed to ascertain their support for or opposition to the deal. Meanwhile, in polling Opinium conducted over the same two days, 17% acknowledged that they had not heard anything about the deal, while another 25% indicated that they did not know whether the deal was acceptable or not.

So, potentially at least, many a heart and mind is still open to persuasion. However, the balance of opinion among those who are willing to give an immediate response is distinctly unfavourable to the deal, much as was true of Chequers.

An unpopular deal

Every single poll has found that, on balance, voters are unhappy with the draft deal. The very first indication of its unpopularity came in a quick poll of 500 voters undertaken on Thursday by Hanbury Strategy – just 28% indicated that they thought the deal was a good one, while 53% felt it was a bad one. That mood has simply been replicated since.  Amongst the subset of their respondents who said that they had heard or seen something about the deal, only 27% indicated to Survation that they supported the deal, while 49% were opposed. The balance of opinion was even more unfavourable according to polling conducted by YouGov. In the first reading it published, the company reported that 19% supported the deal, while 42% were opposed. Then in a further poll for The Times on Saturday, just 15% said they supported the deal, while as many as 51% stated that they were opposed. Meanwhile, on Sunday, Opinium reported that just 22% believe that the deal is ‘acceptable’ while 36% reckon it is ‘unacceptable’.

But perhaps what is most remarkable about these readings is that Remain and Leave voters are largely of one mind about the deal. Survation suggest that, among those who have heard something about the deal, a half of both Remain and Leave voters oppose the deal, although, at 31%, the proportion of Leave voters supporting the deal is somewhat higher than the proportion of Remain voters doing so (23%). In one of their polls YouGov found that Remain voters opposed the deal by 47% to 20%, while amongst Leave voters the balance was 42% to 22%. In another YouGov poll, as many as 56% of both Remain and Leave voters expressed opposition to the deal, with just 16% of Remain voters and 17% of Leave supporters in favour. Meanwhile, Opinium report that 36% of Remainers and 38% of Leavers feel that the deal is unacceptable, with just 23% of the former and 22% of the latter reckoning that it is acceptable.

However, it is clear that the reasons why Remain and Leave voters oppose the deal are very different. Despite being a comprise that might be regarded as pointing towards a softer Brexit than the government originally had in mind, for most Remain voters the deal looks less attractive than remaining in the EU. Meanwhile, because it points to a softer Brexit than they had hoped would transpire, for most Leave voters the deal looks less attractive than exiting without a deal. Just like Chequers, rather than bridging the Brexit divide, the deal appears a friendless victim of the polarisation between these two very different perspectives.

A three-way choice

The first indication that this might be the case came in an instant poll that Sky Data undertook via SMS messages to a nationally representative sample of Sky customers. Invited to choose between reversing Brexit, implementing the draft deal, or leaving without a deal, 54% backed remaining in the EU, 32% preferred leaving without a deal, while just 14% wanted to pursue the deal. This finding was broadly replicated by Survation, which suggested that 43% would prefer to stay in the EU, 28% wanted to leave without a deal, while just 16% supported leaving on the basis of the draft deal.  The deal did somewhat better in Opinium’s poll, with 21% backing it, but even so it still trailed leaving without a deal (24%) as well as remaining in the EU (32%).

When presented with these questions, Remain and Leave voters give very different answers from each other. Faced with the three-way choice, Remain voters are still inclined to stick with staying in the EU. According to Opinium, 62% are of that view, while in Survation’s poll (in which many fewer voters said ‘Don’t Know’), the figure was a high as 83%. Meanwhile although a minority of Leave voters are inclined to back the deal, of the three possibilities their most popular option is to leave without a deal, with 55% expressing that view in Survation’s poll, and 45% in the exercise conducted by Opinium.

Leavers prefer No Deal to Deal

The relative unpopularity of the deal among Leave voters – whose mandate it is that the government is trying to fulfil – is underlined when respondents are given the binary choice between leaving on the basis of the deal or exiting with no deal. Survation found that in those circumstances 54% of Leave voters would prefer to exit without a deal, while 24% would want the deal. Meanwhile, when YouGov forced all their respondents to say which they would prefer, without giving them the option of saying ‘Don’t Know’, 64% of Leave voters said they would prefer no deal, and just 36% the deal. Meanwhile, Opinium report that 48% of Leave voters agree that ‘leaving without a deal would be better than leaving with the current deal’, while just 9% explicitly disagree (a quarter said they neither agreed nor disagreed).

Fall in confidence

This mood among Leave voters appears to have had two consequences. The first has been to undermine their confidence in the government’s handling of Brexit, which has fallen back towards the all-time low to which it fell in the immediate aftermath of Chequers. Opinium report that 52% of all voters now disapprove of how Mrs May is handling the process of leaving the UK, only a little below the 56% figure the company registered immediately after Chequers. But whereas among Remain voters the level of disapproval (58%) is the same as it was last month, among Leave supporters it has increased by six points (to 49%). In the case of YouGov, the picture is even more dramatic. As many as 75% of all voters now say the government has handled the Brexit negotiations badly, similar to the readings the company obtained shortly after Chequers. A lot of what is as much as a ten-point increase on YouGov’s previous reading earlier this month is the product of no less than a sixteen-point increase in the proportion of Leave voters who express that view. Indeed, according to YouGov Leave voters are now almost as critical of the government’s performance as Remain supporters.

Drop in poll rating

The second consequence appears to be a drop in the poll rating of the Conservatives much as happened after Chequers. The publication of the Chequers agreement saw a small but noticeable rise in support for UKIP, accompanied by a drop in Conservative support, a movement that has never entirely dissipated since. Now this movement has been given a further boost. According to ComRes, the overall level of support for UKIP is, at 7%, up two points on where it was in late September.  Meanwhile, Opinium also put UKIP support up two points (to 8%) on where the party was in the middle of last month, an increase that is largely accounted for by a six-point rise (to 16%) among Leave voters. Both polls suggest that the biggest source of  the latest Conservative losses has been movement to UKIP. According to ComRes the proportion of 2017 Conservative voters who would now vote UKIP is up three points on its last poll, while Opinium put the increase at four points. These findings are hardly likely to encourage those Conservative MPs who are unhappy about the Brexit deal to fall in behind the Prime Minister in the forthcoming ‘meaningful vote’ on the deal.

Remainers prefer Deal to No Deal

Still, if the Prime Minister’s argument that her deal is better than the risk of no deal cuts less ice with many Leave voters than she might hope, it is one for which, perhaps unsurprisingly, Remain voters do show some sympathy. When Survation faced their respondents with a choice between the draft deal or no deal, 44% of Remain voters indicated that they would prefer the deal, and only 18% no deal. The margin was even bigger when YouGov posed the same choice without allowing respondents to say Don’t Know; in this instance no less than 81% of Remainers said that they would prefer the deal.  Many in the business community appear minded to bat for the government’s deal because of the uncertainty and chaos that they fear its rejection will bring. Maybe their efforts might yet bear some fruit among those who would really prefer remain in the EU?

Support for another referendum?

However, what is also clear is that many Remain supporters are still hoping that Brexit will be the subject of another referendum. YouGov find that as many as 81% of Remain voters would prefer another referendum rather than pursuing the government’s deal. Three other polls that have simply asked in one way or another whether voters back some kind of second ballot (and allowed voters to say ‘Don’t Know’) report more modest but still majority support for the idea among Remainers. YouGov in a poll for the People’s Vote campaign found that 71% would like a vote on the government’s deal, and Opinium suggest the same proportion would definitely or probably like another ballot if parliament fails to back the deal, although Survation suggest the proportion backing a ‘People’s Vote’ stands at a more modest 60%.

However, most Leave voters are still resistant to this argument. Consequently, among voters at large there is still neither consistent or substantial majority support for another ballot. Thus, although YouGov’s poll for the People’s Vote campaign found 48% of all voters in favour of a second vote and 34% opposed, and while Opinium reckon 49% are in favour and 38% opposed (and a further poll by Populus for Best for Britain is reported as finding 44% in favour and 30% opposed), Survation put the balance in favour at just 42% to 38%, while (in another question that did not allow respondents to say ‘Don’t Know’) ComRes actually obtained a narrow majority (by 53% to 47%) against. In truth, the campaign for a second referendum has very much become a campaign to reverse Brexit – the very opposite of what Mrs May is trying to achieve.


John Curtice

By John Curtice

John Curtice is Senior Research Fellow at NatCen and at 'UK in a Changing Europe', Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, and Chief Commentator on the What UK Thinks: EU website.

26 thoughts on “Another Dose of Chequers? Voters’ Initial Reactions to the Draft Brexit Deal

  1. Ignoring the ongoing Remain clown show, which appears to me to be based on obsessive egoism far more than actual thought, has anyone noticed the absence of comments based on reading the propose Exit Agreement?

    People don’t have to read the entire 500+ page draft, since they can read the 50 page summary produced by the Civil Service.

    I have read it, and I can’t see what’s so wrong about it. It takes us out of the EU, and that should satisfy Brexiteers. On the other hand, it avoids the disruption to trade of a no-deal Brexit, and since that potential disruption appears to be the main plank in the remain platform – they never did come up with positive reasons to remain in the EU, only threats of disaster if we left – it should also satisfy the Remainers.

    Am I the only one who has read the proposed agreement? Has someone else read it and discovered some disastrous aspect to it? Have the people demanding a second referendum ever actually read what they would be voting *about*? It ought not to be necessary to ask this, but we live in strange, irrational, days.

  2. This week, Tusk said something that was very clever, but also dishonest. He said that if Parliament votes down the proposed Brexit deal, the alternatives ar “No-deal or no Brexit”.

    That is very clever, because it implies that no-deal and no Brexit are simple alternatives: choose A or choose B. But they are not simple alternatives.

    No-deal is a right that is guaranteed in A50. If you don’t like the deal that *you* negotiated, you can exit the EU with no deal, and also no conditions. This not true of no Brexit. If you want to reverse Brexit you have to *request* that, and it would take the unanimous consent of the other 27 members, plus whatever conditions they choose to impose. What those conditions would be, you can argue over, but they would be imposed, not negotiated, and they would certainly increase the EU’s control over the UK and the cost of membership.

    So if Parliament passes the amendment that is currently being proposed, which excludes a no-deal Brexit, their vote would have no binding effect on the EU – Parliament cannot legislate Remain – but if they pass this amendment and also reject the proposed exit agreement, they will have voted to remain in the EU with whatever extra conditions the EU chooses to impose.

    If that happens, Remain will have succeeded in doing only one thing: not to gain “benefits” but simply to make EU membership even worse than it currently is, with greater loss of sovereignty and greater cost..

    1. It is certainly true that if one wishes to “reverse” Brexit one has to notify the EU. However, whether
      this is a request or merely a notification has not yet been established in EU law. Fortunately there
      are only a few days before this issue will be clarified.

      It is only an “assertion” that it would take the unanimous consent of the other 27 members, plus
      whatever conditions they choose to impose. As is well known the actual treaty is silent on the
      issue and so only CJEU can rule as to what is required – although we may be forgiven for taking
      the recommendation of the Advocate General as a likely outcome until proven otherwise.

      Thus it would seem sensible to delay further comment on the cost of permission to revoke the
      29th March 2017 notification until after the AG formal Opinion has been issued.

      There will still be time for the member for Leeds Central and his fellow signatories to take
      account of any changed circumstances before progressing or reissuing their amendment for
      consideration on 11th December.

      1. “However, whether this is a request or merely a notification has not yet been established in EU law.”

        You are anxiously awaiting an ECJ ruling that EU law can be changed by one member state without the permission of the other 27? You do know that the Lisbon Treaty i an International treaty with 28 signatories, and that A50 is part of that Treaty?

        And you also know, I am sure, that on Nov 27th the legal representative of the EU argued that allowing member states to revoke A50 unilaterally would be “an abuse” and a “disaster”.Report

  3. If democracy means punishing the wrongdoers, then those who need it are a) the government in power who took us there b) the Brexiteers who duped the vulnerable with false claims and statisytics, c) the gung-ho voters who fell in for the dupe. Many of the latter are said to be the biggest sufferers should Leave the EU prevail while the Brexiteer politicians are said to be high to very high worth individuals who are likely to remain unaffected as their livelihood and lifestyle are concerned.

    The only re-righting of the injustice would be through a second referendum.Report

  4. Personally I worry about the British citizen who availed themselves of ‘freedom-of-movement’ and were disenfranchised for the Brexit vote, nolonger have democratic representation in UK, and will have none in their chosen EU country, unless they have citizenship there. What is to become of them in the event of Brexit crash out?
    Will they be hounded in EU countries as persona non grata representatives of negative Brexit impact?
    or will they simply be ingored as “stateless citizens”, not represented in the EU, by their resident nation or in the UK?Report

      1. Yes – the fifteen year rule is well known.
        The difficulty arises with those who left UK over fifteen years ago.
        Despite promises some while ago removing this restriction has not progressed.Report

        1. That is completely irrelevant to the original posting. Any UK citizen who was enfranchised before Brexit did not become disenfranchised because of Brexit. Anyone who loses their vote because of the fifteen year rule, loses it because of established law which has *nothing* legally to do with Brexit.

          The Government may or may not repeal the fifteen year rule, but if they do, that will also have nothing legally to do with Brexit.Report

  5. It is nonsense to say that another vote would be undemocratic: how can a referendum be undemocratic.
    But it is unlikely that the matter is entirely in our hands since (a) it is unclear whether we have the right to withdraw the notice given under article 50 of our intention to leave and (b) it would anyhow be difficult to complete the referendum before 29th March.
    It would therefore be necessary to ask the EU to extend the notice period, and seek clarity as to what if any conditions it would seek to impose, if any, for our return – otherwise voters would not know what the choice was.
    On the whole, EU leaders seem keen for us to stay, and may be prepared to extend and give the necessary clarity – although the process would be slow due to the need to consult 27 countries, so that any referendum would probably be delayed by months.
    However unless the EU was so keen to have us back as not to impose onerous conditions, the whole exercise would be futile. The electorate would probably wear the loss of the rebate and a provision preventing us from giving an another notice to leave for say 5 years, but not the euro or Schengen.Report

    1. That’s about right, but unfortunately there is an amendment before Parliament that would have the effect of tying the Government’s hands so that they had to accept whatever conditions the EU imposed – assuming that amendment passes and *also* that May’s proposed deal is rejected.Report

      1. Can we have posted the exact wording of the amendment submitted by member for Leeds Central?
        My recollection is that it does not mention “tying the hands of the Government so that they have to
        accept whatever conditions are imposed by EU”.
        It aims to do three things
        a) decline to ratify the current deal on the table
        b) prevent exit from EU without a deal
        c) open up the space to explore other options
        Among the “other options” would be a Peoples’ Vote but the ingenuity present in the
        collective brainpower of the House of Commons could well add other plausible options.

        However, it would be easier to assess when HMG’s hand are *really* tied if the wording
        were to be posted in this comment column.Report

  6. Another Brexity post from JC.

    There may have been a referendum win for Leave, but there’s clearly no mandate.
    And all evidence points to clear public support for another referendum, so don’t try to fudge it. Report

    1. The legal basis for Brexit is not the referendum, which was advisory, but the three Parliamentary votes that followed it.

      Parliament solicited our opinion once, and after that they are under no legal obligation to do so twice. We asked them to negotiate Brexit, and they are doing so. When they get a deal they can pass, they will pass it. Or not. That’s how the law works here.Report

      1. Whilst it is true that the legal basis for Brexit is not the referendum (which was advisory) the
        UK High Court on 12th June 2018 found that the “Decision” to leave was made by the Prime
        Minister on 29th March 2017. That decision is currently subject to Judicial Review (with lead
        claimant Susan Wilson) and will next be in court on 7th December. The papers in that case
        show that the notification under Article50(2) explicitly claims that the result of the June 2016
        referendum was the principal, if not sole, reason motivating the decision to leave.

        It is correct that Parliament is under no legal obligation to solicited our opinion. However it
        was the decision to consult in 2016 that got us into the current mess and, politically (ie
        not legally) it is only a further consultation that can resolve the matter and start the process
        of societal healing that is so necessary. The 2016 campaign was based on speculation (who
        then had a clear idea of the difference between a customs union and a single market?) but
        now we have an abundance of facts and a legal text capable of implementing Brexit. Thus
        we have a much better chance of achieving a rational result rather than one inspired by
        emotion. With the benefit of hindsight we should have heeded the precedent set in 1982 by
        Greenland who gave notice to leave and planned a confirmation referendum as culmination,
        However we are where we are. On Tuesday 4th December we will gain an idea as to whether
        it will be possible to revoke the Article50(2) notification penalty-free and on Friday 7th we
        should learn whether the Susan Wilson JR case can proceed. Both these will influence the
        perceived options in the parliamentary vote on 11th December. We are by-standers!

        1. “Motivating reasons” are not legal bases I may have a reason to trespass on my neighbour’s land, but that does not give me a legal basis for doing so.. Only the parliamentary votes are legal bases here.

          “On Tuesday 4th December we will gain an idea as to whether it will be possible to revoke the Article50(2) notification penalty-free”

          No, we won’t. The ECJ is a legal body, not a legislative body. They cannot possible rule on what penalties the EU will require for a reversal of A50. That is up to the remaining EU27. Even *extendinbg* A50 requires the unanimous consent of the EU27.Report

  7. I think Britain is mad to leave EU and immoral in the possible treatment of EU citizens in UK and British citizens in EU.

    Theresa May’s deal is better than no deal at all.

    Most Brexiteers I speak to feel that Britain will be no worse if not better outside EU.

    I think we may have to leave EU to prove to Brexiteers how wrong they were and what fools the brexiteer politicians are. Report

  8. > There is an obvious punishment, which is to treat the UK as a new member, with an obligation to adopt the euro, lose our remaining opt-outs, membership of Schengen, supervision of the City by the ECB, ending Sterling and neutering the BoE, submitting the UK budget to Berlin for approval before Parliament votes on it, and integration of the UK armed forces into Merkel and Macron’s new European Army.

    The EU could only do those things, even if it wanted to, if we were to opt to re-join in some years time. Right now the UK is still a member of the EU. If we were to have a referendum and the result was to remain, then we would remain as a member on the current terms and none of these supposed ‘punishment terms’ would apply.

    1. No, sorry, but you are just restating the Remain fantasy. A50 states in clear language that two years after invoking A50 the treaties *shall* cease to apply to the departing member.

      “The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”

      Even to extend the negotiation period we need the unanimous agreement of the other members. By ourselves, we cannot do anything. We don’t even get a vote on the matter.

      Unless they decide to grant an extension, or to allow us to rejoin as a new member via A49, at which point they can impose any conditions they want, two years after invoking A50, we are out.

      This is the point of my post. People are being asked to chose options, one of which is “remain”. There is no such option. There is only “rejoin under A49 and accept whatever cost the EU27 choose to impose”.

      Conduct a poll that makes that choice clear, and see what answers you get.Report

        1. I don’t think you understand what you are writing. Yes, the ECJ will decide, but why them? Answer, because the UK Supreme Court decided – correctly – that it has no jurisdiction on A50, and so it *has* to refer the case to the ECJ.

          Got that? The highest Court in the UK decides thaat it has “no jurisdiction” over A50 and you conclude that we in the UK can unilaterally revoke A50? The UK can unilaterally revoke a part of EU law over which our own courts have “no jurisdiction”?. And you don’t see the contradiction?

          And when the ECJ decides this case – probably on the 27th – what will they say? Will they say A) “The EU can change its own law” – and charge whatever the market will bear for doing so”, or will the ECB say B) “The UK can change EU law to suit itself without permission of the other 27 members, despite currently having no vote in the EU”?

          And no, no “evidence” points to A50 being revocable by the UK acting unilaterally, since that would be a legal nonsense. Countries do not change one anothers’ laws. Single member states, acting by themselves, do not change EU law, only acting collectively, by consensus or by QMV.

          If Polls actuallly wanted to be helpful here and to get opinions that mean something, they would poll Remainers, point out that the UK cannot dictate a cost-free revocation of A50 acting by itself, and that if we have to ask the rest of the EU27 to revoke A50 for us, then there will be a cost to pay.

          At that point pollsters could ask Remainers what cost they are willing to pay for the EU to revoke A50 for our convenience? Be obliged to join the Euro? Join the Euro and Schengen? Join the Euro, Schengen and lose oversight of the City. All of that plus lose control of the Armed Forces?

          What is going on is a negotiation. We can ask the EU to do us a favour and revoke A50 for us, but each Remainer has to decide what level of pain they are willing to endure to make the EU27 willing to do us that favour.

          Oh, and if you think negotiating a revocation of A50 with the other EU27 would be either easy or quick, think how long it took to negotiate the Lisbon treaty, of which A50 is an integral part, and think what message the EU27 would be sending to other unhappy member states – think Italy – if they do so.Report

          1. Jon Scott puts the issue succinctly.
            It is only a few days before we get the opinion of the Advocate General/
            It could be a game changer!
            Let us await this before indulging in further speculation.Report

          2. No, Jon Scott doesn’t understand the issue. A50 is EU law, not UK law so all that the ECJ can do is to say that the UK can *ask* permission to reverse their invocation of A50.

            Does anyone think that the ECJ is going to give the UK permission to do something *without* permission?Report

  9. “……just 28% indicated that they thought the deal was a good one, while 53% felt it was a bad one.”

    At the risk of being frivolous, if you polled the voters in the middle of thunderstorm, whether rain is good or bad, I’d guess that most voters would vote against rain – yet it still rains.

    This is pretty much where we are today. We have realistic choices, not ideak ones, and to get meaningful results, we ought to poll the voters on what is possible, and not on what they would prefer in an ideal World.

    After more than forty years of EU membership, it was never going to be quick and simple to exit the EU. If you want to leave trade intact, you have to have something like the deal on offer, and if you go for a no-deal Brexit, you have to be prepared for a good deal of trade and economic damage. One realistic question would be to ask the voter to compare this deal with no deal, given a realistic estimate of what that that damage would be.

    Another realistic would be to ask the voters to choose between this deal and the *cost* of asking to remain in the EU. Only the EU can change A50, for them to change it would be politically costly – it would open it up to any member to invoke A50 and then revoke their invocation when they pleased. So it is pretty much meaningless to offer remaining in the EU as a unilateral cost free alternative.

    It is Remainers themselves who say that the EU is intent on punishing the UK, so they have to admit some reasonable level of punishment for invoking A50 and then asking to be allowed to change our minds.

    There is an obvious punishment, which is to treat the UK as a new member, with an obligation to adopt the euro, lose our remaining opt-outs, membership of Schengen, supervision of the City by the ECB, ending Sterling and neutering the BoE, submitting the UK budget to Berlin for approval before Parliament votes on it, and integration of the UK armed forces into Merkel and Macron’s new European Army.

    Poll the voters and ask them to compared the proposed deal with that level of pain and see what answer you get then. Talking as if we can just say “never mind” and continue as we are is just delusional.Report

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