Are Voters Ready To Leave With No Deal?

Posted on 11 March 2019 by John Curtice

Another week, another (supposedly) round of votes in the Commons on Brexit. But with just three weeks to go until the UK’s scheduled day of departure, maybe not another week in which nothing changes. Perhaps by Friday the immediate future of Brexit at least will be a little clearer.

The Prime Minister has promised MPs up to three votes this week. On Tuesday, there should be another ‘meaningful vote’ on her deal, however amended in the wake of the negotiations that have been taking place ever since the deal was first voted down by MPs in January. The government has to win such a vote at some point before it can present the EU withdrawal treaty to Parliament for ratification.

But if, as is currently widely anticipated, the meaningful vote is lost, then MPs have been promised another vote on Wednesday on whether or not the UK should be prepared to leave the EU without a deal. And if the Commons rejects the idea of leaving without a deal (as it has already done once before), then on Thursday the Commons has been promised it will get the chance to say whether or not it thinks that the UK should seek an extension of the Article 50 process, that is, to delay the scheduled departure date.

To complicate matters further, one or more of these days may also see votes on amendments that propose some of the widely-canvassed alternatives to the government’s current Brexit strategy, including forging a future relationship with the EU not dissimilar to that enjoyed by Norway and putting the issue to a second referendum in which voters are invited to choose between Mrs May’s deal and remaining in the EU.

We have written previously (see here, here and here) about the popularity of many of these options with voters – and for the most part there is little sign that attitudes have changed in the meantime. Mrs May’s deal still seems to be decidedly unpopular. A Norway style Brexit has yet to capture the public imagination and is relatively unpopular among Leavers. Meanwhile, rather more people are opposed than are in favour of another ballot if it is described as a referendum in which Remain is one of the options on the ballot paper.

To date, however, we have paid less attention to public attitudes towards leaving without a deal. Given that this is one of the decisions potentially facing MPs this week, it is whether or not voters back such a step on which we will focus here.

Two principal strategies have been adopted by the polls in attempting to assess the popularity or otherwise of leaving without a deal. The first is to pit the idea against one or more alternatives, and ask voters which would be their first preference. Inevitably, exactly how popular no deal appears to be depends in such polls on which other options are included. Even so, there is one conclusion at least that it would seem safe to draw – among Leave voters leaving without a deal is the single most popular course of action.

The relative popularity of leaving without a deal has been repeatedly demonstrated by Opinium. It has now asked its respondents on no less than nine occasions to choose between five different possible ways forward given the rejection of Mrs May’s deal by Parliament. Each time leaving without a deal has been the single most popular option, on average securing the backing of 26%. That support comes almost entirely from those who voted Leave, as many as 47% of whom have on average identified it as their first choice.

Still, it might be objected that in practice the choice facing MPs is not so wide-raging as that canvassed by Opinium. Rather, as the Prime Minister would put it, it is in reality between deal, no deal or no Brexit.  When polls have presented voters with that choice, it is no Brexit that has emerged as the single most popular choice. However, at the same time, no deal has usually emerged as more popular than Mrs May’s deal (or indeed anything similar thereto). The figures are remarkably similar to those obtained in response to Opinium’s more complex question. The half dozen most recent readings have put support for leaving without a deal among all voters at 28% on average. Again, most of it comes from those who voted Leave, 54% of whom on average state that it is their first choice.

Support for no deal proves to be a little higher if it is simply pitted against Mrs May’s deal. Now it stands at around a third (as it more or less does in this slightly different approach from Opinium), and is clearly the more popular option among those who voted Leave, nearly three-fifths of whom prefer it. But because most Remain voters prefer Mrs May’s deal to no deal, this still means it is the less popular option among voters as a whole.

The second strategy used by the polls to ascertain the popularity of no deal has been simply to ask people in one way or another whether they support or oppose leaving without a deal. In practice this approach confirms the relative popularity of leaving without a deal among those who voted Leave. However, it also confirms that there is a substantial minority of Leave voters are opposed to the idea, while there is little evidence that those who voted Remain might be willing to accept it. As a result, among voters as a whole opponents outnumber supporters.

YouGov, for example, have asked people on three occasions whether leaving without a deal would be a good outcome, a bad outcome or an acceptable compromise. The results have been similar each time. Only around a third have said that such an outcome would either be good or an acceptable compromise, while around a half feel it would be a bad outcome. Three-fifths of Leave voters say that it would either be good or an acceptable compromise, but a quarter or so reckon it would be a bad outcome. Meanwhile, YouGov’s data suggest that, at most, only one in ten Remain voters are willing to contemplate such a prospect.

This picture is largely confirmed by further polls from Sky Data and from BMG Research that simply asked voters whether they support or oppose leaving without a deal. They found 71% and 66% of Leave voters respectively in favour of no deal. However, in both cases 18% of Leave voters were opposed, while just 15-17% of Remain supporters backed the idea. As a result, these polls also suggest that, among voters as a whole, opponents of no deal outnumber supporters.

True, rather more support for leaving without a deal is recorded if voters are asked what should happen if, as Survation have asked, ‘the EU does not change its position on the Brexit deal’, or, as ComRes have done in two slightly different ways (see here and here) ‘if the EU refuses to make any more concessions’. When the issue is addressed in this way around two in five voters or so express their support, and they may even outnumber opponents. Trouble is, asking such a question invites respondents to express their views about how the EU have handled the negotiations (about which many voters are critical) rather than simply their view of the merits of no deal.

So, it looks as though leaving without a deal is the first preference around half or so of Leave voters and is certainly more popular among them than Mrs May’s deal. It might be acceptable to at least as many as two-thirds of Leave voters. That figure is, in fact, strikingly similar to the two-thirds of Remain voters who support holding a second referendum (while few of them are willing to consider leaving without a deal). We thus, perhaps, should not be surprised that when voters are asked to choose between leaving without a deal and holding another ballot the two options prove to be more or less equally popular. And it is the fact that the public are so evenly divided – and indeed polarised – between the two ‘extreme’ (and perhaps equally divisive) options in the Brexit debate that helps explain why the choice MPs are expected to have to make this week is likely to prove a difficult one.

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.

25 thoughts on “Are Voters Ready To Leave With No Deal?

  1. Although it is clearly understood that a referendum and an election are two different things, both involve the general public. Can anyone imagine after the result of a general election, with the whole of the electorate signing a petition stating that the new PM could not take office until the electorate have discussed this further? The Government have had three years to come to a decision on HOW to leave the EU. If a decision cannot be decided in that very long period of time – then the UK should leave on default to leave with a no deal. This action would not be anywhere near as damaging as the delays have been, it would be highly beneficial for everyone – except the EU! The UK is in a very strong position, it needs to act now, decisively, for it’s greatest advantage.Report

  2. Any new referendum should be between leaving the EU with a deal or with out a deal – The vote was held. The result of the vote was that we leave the EU. The new referendum should not overturn the result of the first referendum but offer a choice on how we leave the EU. Same with the Scottish Independence vote. That was held and the result was that Scotland stay in the UK.Report

  3. As Gove said, we are all fed up with experts. That’s because everyone’s an expert these days. Remain or leave, why so few voices for ‘don’t know’?Report

  4. “Taking back control is a careful change, not a sudden stop – we will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave.” –Vote Leave, June 2016.

    That is what people voted for: Leave the EU. And they got to vote on only that. When, how, where to? The government would negotiate those terms. The people were never promised to have a say in that. Moreover note specifically how Vote Leave said that this deal would be negotiated BEFORE starting the legal process to leave. That doesn’t sound like a no-deal Brexit, does it?

  5. What on earth is going on?

    We voted to leave.

    We elect MP’s to represent us – the public – in a so called democratic society.

    Stop being self indulgent (so many of you) forget elections and potential career opportunities and just do the job your constituents have voted for.

    The EU hardly operate in a democratic way and we would do well to move out!

    The EU record on trade deals is not impressive and free movement is something we simply cannot accept anymore.Report

  6. Which part of “Leave the European Union” did the remainers not understand? It was quite simple and explained ad nauseam for the months preceding. The government sent a leaflet to EVERY household explaining the facts Politicians explained on every form of media that is was a one and only chance, with no going back. I and everyone I know that vote to leave fully understood what we voted for. IF we do not leave the democracy will be dead. I am sure of one thing, that is that all the remain voters who are calling for a second chance or the revocation of article 50 do not have one idea what democracy is or means. When you take part in a democratic vote you agree to peacefully abide by the result, if you do not anarchy will ensue. Had remain one I would have excepted that it and moved on, perhaps its time for remain voters to do the same.Report

  7. I voted to leave the EU and still feel the same perhaps more so now. I feel Theresa May has not stood up to them and agree that the EU is the problem and I would wholeheartedly support leaving with a no deal. If we give in to them now they will walk all over us.Report

  8. The EU in its current format is as far from democracy as is possible to be. We should be outside until such a time as it reforms its constitution a d becomes anserable to the electorate. The problem is the Eu not GB Report

  9. I can’t believe this is happening democracy is going to go out the window I will never vote again we might as well have Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi in charge because without democracy we’re then are in the country of dictatorship I am disgusted with our government if they didn’t want this to happen they shouldn’t have put the vote to the public which part of out of the European Union don’t anyone understand
    The remainers Lost losing hurts and being a loser hurts even more so accept that you’ve lost and leave democracy run it’s true real proper course out of the European Union which is what the public wantReport

  10. I voted out which part of out does anyone understand I voted out that means completely out of the European Union French and Germans are hell-bent on punishing the UK and they are really scared that if we prevail with a No Deal the Euro will end up collapsing there should be no second referendum I have already voted get out No Deal let’s see how the French deal with that it’s not us that will just lose money so will theyReport

  11. With all this talk about the ‘revoke Article 50’ website crashing where is the ‘accept lawfully agreed by Parliament no deal Brexit’ website? Report

  12. I voted to leave I did not vote to pay the E U for us to do so, I also did not vote for MPs to decide on another vote to suit what they think us little people couldn’t possibly understand and as regards to the Good Friday Agreement it is not Britain who is wanting a hard border but the EU pushing for it as a way to punish and extract more money and concessions from one of their biggest contributors. Plus the aforementioned agreement was changed at St Andrews without the public getting the chance to vote. Remember Blair’s secret meetings and IRA members being given comfort letters etc and the way that Brexit is going it looks like the public are going to be ignored again with Remainer politicians thinking they know better than the people they are meant to represent.Report

  13. The question whether to leave or remain has been asked and answered already by referendum. Therefore, any 2nd referendum should only relate to the terms under which we leave….to use a phrase, deal or no deal! Remain is simply not an option since that boat has already set sail!Report

  14. The 2016 Ref did not specify HOW we Leave the EU, nor did the preceding campaign accurately reflect the short term consequences of a Leave vote; in these circumstances it is quite reasonable for MPs to differ in their approach to “honouring” the result – including those advocating a confirmatory referendum with the options of the Govt’s deal and Remain (& perhaps others). Report

  15. John should surely point out there is widespread confusion among voters about what leaving without a deal actually means. In a series of true or false questions only this week COMRES found widespread misconceptions about No Deal including many people who thought it meant the status quo, others who , thought it meant a transition period and others who thought it meant staying in the EU. so it is not quite as as simple a proposition as this article makes out .


  16. Would people be less keen on Brexit if they knew that any meaningful form of Brexit would lead to our nation breaking the Good Friday Agreement? Unless May dropped her red line of having a customs border in the Irish Sea.

    This is an international agreement which has been described thus:-

    “a core constitutional text of the UK, and of Ireland … of more everyday importance than hallowed instruments such as, say, Magna Carta of 1215 or the 1689 Bill of Rights” (David Allen Green).

    Breaching such an international agreement by HMG without an Act of Parliament and Royal assent is unacceptable. To allow Brexit – in the knowledge that its implementation would require the GFA to be breached – could be regarded as an act of treason. Report

  17. I would be interested to know whether people would change their views about Brexit if they were made aware that it made more likely a second Scottish Independence referendum which could well lead to the break up of the UK?Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *