Have Voters Lost Patience With The Brexit Process?

Posted on 3 October 2019 by John Curtice

The Brexit negotiations have now entered the endgame. Boris Johnson’s government has put forward proposals to replace the Northern Ireland backstop that was the principal reason why MPs rejected the withdrawal treaty that Mrs May had negotiated. The government hopes that its proposals will form the basis for a revised agreement that will enable the UK to leave the EU with a deal at the end of this month. But if not, the UK government is determined that the UK should leave the EU at that time anyway.

In adopting that stance, the government argues that voters have lost patience with a Brexit process that has failed in over three years to deliver Brexit. It is suggested that even those who voted Remain would like the saga to be brought to a swift conclusion, thereby enabling the country to unite and move on to a domestic agenda that has been badly neglected during the Brexit negotiations. Indeed, it is a theme to which the Boris Johnson returned in his party conference speech yesterday.

But how valid is this claim?

There has, in truth, been relatively little polling that addresses this issue directly. Probably the question that comes closest to doing so comes from Opinium who on a number of occasions this year have asked people to choose which of the following three options best describes their view:

I don’t care how or on what terms Britain leaves the European Union as long as we leave as soon as possible

I want to make sure that Britain get the best possible deal when it leaves the European Union, regardless of how long it takes

I am opposed to Brexit and want to see it reversed no matter what deal Britain gets

The first of these options would seem to reflect the sentiment that the government claims is widespread among voters.

The pattern of answers to this question suggests that the desire to leave the EU as soon as posible is indeed quite widely felt. On average across eight readings taken since February just over one in three (35%) have picked the first option. In contrast, slightly less than one on four (24%) say that they are willing to wait to get the best possible deal. Just under three in ten (29%) say they want to see Brexit reversed.

Still, just over a third is considerably less than a majority. It is hard on this evidence to argue that most voters are impatient to get Brexit done.

There is also little sign that voters are any more impatient now than they were last April, shortly after the UK had initially failed to leave the EU.

That said, what is true is that most Leave voters are more concerned to leave quickly rather than they are to get the best possible deal. Across the two readings of their poll question Opinium took in September, on average around two-thirds (68%)of Leave supporters said we should leave the EU as soon as possible while only one in five (20%) indicated a willingness to wait for the best possible deal.

Conversely, however, there is no evidence that anything other than a small minority of Remain supporters simply want Brexit to be done and dusted as soon as possible. Just one in ten (10%) of them picked that option. While 29% of Remainers were willing to wait for the best possible deal, rather more than half (52%) said that Britain should remain in the EU irrespective of whatever deal is negotiated.

Apart from this question from Opinium, there a number of other questions that address the issue of whether the UK should be leaving the EU at the end of October and which might also be thought to provide evidence of the public mood on the need for an early end to the Brexit impasse. Though variously worded, they all paint much the same picture. Those who voted Leave are keen for the October deadline to be met, while those who voted Remain take the opposite view. As a result, supporters and opponents of an exit by the end of the month are more or less evenly matched in the electorate as a whole.

The pattern of response to four such questions is summarised in the table. Two come from the same poll conducted by ComRes in which, first of all, voters were asked whether they agreed or disagreed that it would be better for the UK to leave without a deal than to extend beyond October 31st and, then, whether they agreed or disagreed with the opposite proposition. It did not matter which way round the question was asked. While in both cases just over seven in ten of Leave voters expressed the view that it would be better to leave without a deal than to delay, at the same time exactly seven in ten Remain voters took the opposite view.

Meanwhile, two questions (see here and here) posed on two different polls by Survation put Remain and Leave voters even further apart on the issue. While over eight in ten Leave voters said that Brexit should not be delayed and should take place on October 31st, the balance of opinion among Remain supporters was almost exactly in the opposite direction.

As a result, all four polls suggest that overall supporters and opponents are more or less evenly matched, an impression also conveyed by a further reading from Ipsos MORI for which a breakdown by how people voted in 2016 is not available.

There appears then to be a substantial body of voters who think that the UK should leave the EU at the end of October come what may. But they are – unsurprisingly perhaps – mostly those who voted Leave. There is little evidence that frustration with the Brexit impasse has persuaded many Remain voters that it is time to call time on the process. This suggests that leaving at the end of October might not provide as helpful a backdrop to the subsequent task of bringing the country together as the government appears to anticipate.

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.

17 thoughts on “Have Voters Lost Patience With The Brexit Process?

  1. The Liberal Left Establishment never expected the Vote Leave Campaign to win , and it came as a
    huge shock to them . They have spent the years since the vote doing all in their power to scupper the
    result , and thus far have been very successful in that aim . However , you can run from the people by
    denying them an election , ( one of the current strategies) , but you cannot hide forever , and sooner or
    later a vote must take place .When it does , I trust and believe the British people will send the liberal
    elite packing….hopefully for a very long time to come . There are many institutions in this country that
    desperately need reform….here are a few…..The Lords , The Commons , The Media & BBC , The Civil
    Service , Church of England …I could go on .And let’s not forget the EU itself …monstrously undemocratic and , without the UK budget contribution , in serious financial difficulty . I have never had
    less faith in our democratic system than I have today ,and the Supreme Court decision to enter the
    political arena has only underlined my lack of faith . Their Lordships may well be the next institution to
    require root and branch reform !!Report

  2. Linda Rosemary,
    Poll results will vary depending in exactly what one asks and how.
    So, asking just Leave vs Remain, as in 2016 Ref results in a small Remain majority, I think because of the uncertainty in what Leave actually entails, as we have been seeing over the last 3 years and have still to resolve.
    Asking between No Deal, Leave with Deal, and Remain gives results closer to this article, because voters can specify what sort of Leave they will accept.
    Results may differ further on other wording or poll type, e.g. ‘would you support’ may return a more pragmatic result of what people would accept, whereas ‘would you prefer’ may furnish their ideal outcome. Allowing ranking in preference order may yield differently again, effectively allowing ideal and what would accept. Useful for a single transferable vote poll to decide something.
    I hope this helps, as the paradoxical poll results confused me too.Report

  3. Whether a majority of the electorate is, or is not currently in favor of a no deal Brexit is nice to know, but not that important. No deal, as far as British law is concerned, is not acceptible. A move to exit without a deal, would be illegal, unless the EU refuses a further extension of art 50.

    It is clear the UK needs more time to decide what sacrifices it is willing to make regarding Brexit. Sacrifice the peace process in NI and maybe even the union, accept the original backstop, accept May’s deal, or revoke art 50. To be able to come to this decision, a new PM and/or goverment is required to lead the process. It will be interesting to see how this comes about.Report

  4. “The Brexit negotiations have now entered the endgame.”
    Who suspects that Professor Curtice might be a closet Marvel fan?
    I’d suggest another title, Captain America: Civil War.Report

  5. “(35%) (ie leave as soon as possible) have picked the first option. In contrast, slightly less than one on four (24%) say that they are willing to wait to get the best possible deal. Just under three in ten (29%) say they want to see Brexit reversed. Across all responders.
    Not only does this give a majority support for leave as soon as possible, when they are combined with those who do want to leave , but with the best deal possible, it gives a result of 59% overall to Leave.
    My question is, how do polls with results like this run concurrently (and sometimes in the same poll) with polls that give the results of a leave versus remain type question as a small majority for remain ?
    What significance does this have if we were to have a rerun of the referendum?Report

  6. “All trade deals involve some loss of sovereignty.”

    No, they don’t, and the claim that they do is the basic fallacy behind Project Fear. All trade deals – in fact all deals whatsoever – involve a loss of freedom of action, because you agree to behave in certain ways.

    But you *agree* to behave in certain ways, and you can withdraw that agreement by cancelling the agreement.

    Membership of the EU is different. It gives foreign courts – courts that are not answerable to your citizens – final authority over trade, and increasingly over no-trade issues, in your own country and that is a loss of sovereignty, not just a temporary and reversible loss of freedom of action.

    A trade deal is when Italy, say, agrees to ship cheese at a certain standard. Loss of sovereignty is when Italy has to get permission from the EU and ECB to spend its own tax money or to borrow to stimulate its economy.

    Loss of sovereignty is when Italy can’t borrow to build new factories, because Germany prefers to use its trade surplus to build German-owned factories in Italy, so that Italians can work for German owners, who then receive the profits from the work of Italians.Report

  7. PedroBG, do you have any evidence at all for those assertions?
    Are you aware that our Head of State, half of Parliament (the House of Lords) and our judiciary are not elected?
    All trade deals involve some loss of sovereignty.Report

  8. Of course it is a lot easier to rehash whether or not we should leave the EU than to address the actual article, and that is what most of the comments so far have done.

    But if you look at the topic of the article, it is a lot more interesting than that. Only 29% want to reverse Brexit – far fewer than voted Remain – while those who support Leave are split between those willing to take No Deal, 35%, and those willing to wait for something that is called “a better deal”, 24%.

    The question that occurs to me is what a better deal consist of, and whether it will ever emerge, no matter how long we wait.

    If taken literally, the Benn Bill could keep us in Brexit limbo for ever. Every time the UK Government makes a proposal, the EU says No, and the Benn backers insist on asking for another extension, waiting for “something”, when the something is most likely to be another UK proposal, another EU refusal, an another extension. Rinse and repeat, as they say.

    On the surface. the EU have the whip hand, since they can refuse any proposal the UK makes, and if they need to justify the refusal, they just have to say Good Friday, Single Market, solidarity, phytosanitary, wet weather, or whatever they please, and most of the press will mindlessly repeat it.

    The people who drafted A50 foresaw this, and added No-Deal in order to protect both sides. If the member leaving is intransigent, the EU can say “OK, no deal”. And if the EU plays the game of endless refusal, the member leaving can leave with no deal.

    But if the member leaving paralyses itself with things like the Benn Bill, it has given away the very measure that was designed to protect it.

    I can see one way out of all this, which is for a GE somehow to be held, after which I think we will see a large Conservative win, but I don’t see how to force a GE through, especially when we now have an anti-Brexit Commons which appears to consider elections to be undemocratic. Another possibility would be to arrange for some EU member to veto further extensions. I wonder how much it would cost to buy Luxemburg.Report

  9. The EU, properly constituted and run on democratic lines would have been marginally acceptable, but David Cameron’s failure to obtain meaningful reform makes it beyond vital to shed all the restrictive trading bureaucracy of this monolithic supra-national outfit in short order. Any deal acceptable to the EU will impose punitive conditions that may save a few jobs in the short term but are calculated to stifle our entrepreneurial ability in the long term. Better three months of chaos on the journey to sunlit uplands than longterm subservience to a failing superstate.Report

  10. Car company’s are going to stop building cars here, it doesn’t make financial sense to do so. Share prices plummeted yesterday when no deal loomed. We have life threatening medication issues even prior to Brexit. This is REAL, actually happening, who in their right mind would vote for that?Report

  11. Do people sufficiently understand, that at stroke, Brexit could be cancelled (not reversed) if Parliament voted to.do so? This the most effective way of getting Brexit ‘done’. Report

  12. I cannot believe ( having seen the Yellowhammer reports) that anyone would be a favour of leaving without a deal! WHY?
    A large percentage of the population did NOT vote to leave and the Government has frittered the time since the extension when a PV could have happened. If it is so clear cut why NOT put it back to the people after all everyone has the chance to have their voices heard!!Report

  13. Opening sentence in this otherwise interesting article is simply dead wrong. Brexit negotiations will go on for years and years. That opening sentence simply reinforces the popular opinion that taking a decision at the end of this month somehow concludes Brexit.

    Sir John, I expect better of you!Report

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