Ministers are finally starting to own the great Brexit debate as study shows they have the public's backing

 
Christian May
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A significant majority of voters now support scenarios associated with a so-called hard Brexit (Source: Getty)

Brexit has many critics, though perhaps not as many as first thought.

While a small but influential group refuse to accept the outcome of last year’s referendum, a major new survey by Oxford University and the London School of Economics has revealed that a significant majority of voters now support scenarios associated with a so-called hard Brexit.

Sixty-seven per cent of people surveyed prefer the “no deal” outcome to an arrangement that included Single Market membership, ongoing payments to the EU, free movement and the supremacy of EU law. As the LSE’s professor Sara Hobolt puts it: “Remain voters are willing to acknowledge that there are key negotiation outcomes... that they may not like but that these outcomes still respect the referendum vote and are therefore legitimate.”

Read more: Davis poised to give guidance on customs measures and the Irish border

This latest study comes after previous polls showing the public largely supporting the need to implement the referendum result, even if they didn’t vote for it. Now that Cabinet ministers Liam Fox and Philip Hammond have offered a united front on the government’s plans for a pathway to Brexit, we can expect a more detailed picture to emerge.

Leaving the Single Market and the customs union, a move to which Fox and Hammond have committed, means that the work of the continuity Remain campaign just got harder.

With the publication of a series of position papers ahead of the next formal round of talks, the government will set out increasingly detailed proposals for withdrawal and life after Brexit.

Read more: Hammond and Fox finally agree on a transition period after Brexit

Opposition will remain, of course, and effective scrutiny will be necessary.

Parliamentary support for the final deal is by no means guaranteed, but with public opinion swinging behind the government’s position and a more comprehensive plan starting to emerge, it looks as if Theresa May and her ministers are beginning to take control of the debate.

This new sense of purpose, if maintained, could serve as a corrective to the popular (though simplistic) view that Britain doesn't know what it’s doing and doesn't know what it wants.

In this context it’s also worth reflecting on the assessment of the City’s top EU envoy, Jeremy Browne, who has painted a picture of an EU riddled with different priorities and varying levels of support for the UK’s position. Taken together, the latest twists of the great Brexit debate suggest that it’s all still to play for.

Read more: Staying in the Single Market would be counter-productive, not pragmatic

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