Do Voters Back the Possibility of Leaving without a Deal?

Posted on 4 September 2019 by John Curtice

The arrival of Boris Johnson in Downing St has resulted in a marked change of tone in the debate about Brexit. The new administration has signalled that, if it is unable to secure a new Brexit deal by the scheduled date for the UK’s departure of 31 October, it will leave the EU without a deal. It hopes this stance will persuade the EU to change its mind about reopening the agreement that the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, had reached with the EU but for which she had been unable to secure the support of MPs. However, some MPs are hoping that they can stop the government from pursuing a no deal Brexit should it be unable to reach an accommodation with the EU.

But what do voters think about the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal? Is this an option that has widespread public support? And might, as the Prime Minister hopes, such a step bring an end to the divisions created by the Brexit impasse? These key questions are addressed by a new analysis paper published by The UK in a Changing Europe.

Drawing on data from a wide variety of published polls, the paper reports three main findings:

  1. There is widespread support for a no deal Brexit among those who voted Leave. At least half would probably prefer such an outcome come what may, while another quarter would probably regard it as acceptable – and especially so if the alternative is further delay or if the EU were thought responsible for failure to reach an agreement.
  2. However, at least three-quarters of Remain voters are opposed to leaving without a deal, whatever the circumstances, and many appear to be antipathetic to the idea. At the same time, those who did not vote in the EU referendum are more likely to oppose than support a no deal Brexit.
  3. As a result, most polling suggests that the balance of opinion among voters as a whole is tilted somewhat against leaving without a deal. Meanwhile, so far at least, there is no evidence that the new government’s backing for leaving without a deal has resulted in an increase in support for taking such a step.

Given these findings, the paper concludes that the government’s stance is largely in tune with the mood of those whose instructions it is seeking to implement, that is those who voted Leave in 2016. However, leaving without a deal could serve to perpetuate the division over Brexit rather than provide a foundation for uniting the country.

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.

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