Think you know how Britain feels about Brexit? Think again

 
Rachel Cunliffe
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New polling out today debunks any idea that Britain is fed-up of arguing about Brexit (Source: Getty)

Having seen her Brexit proposals rejected in the largest defeat for a sitting government in British parliamentary history, the Prime Minister returned to the House of Commons on Monday with a plan B that looks startling like plan A.


Yes, there have been some tweaks around the edges, such as scrapping the fee for EU citizens living in the UK to remain here and promising to seek changes to the Irish backstop, but her red lines remain vividly scarlet, and in essence it is the same strategy – one that MPs have overwhelmingly thrown out and that the EU has insisted it will not renegotiate.

But what does the public think about all this?

New polling out today from the widely respected political scientist Sir John Curtice debunks any idea that Britain is fed-up of arguing about Brexit, or that public division has softened since the referendum.

On the contrary, on this issue the country is more polarised than ever, and Brexit identity is far stronger than party identity. Crucially, “new information about Brexit is interpreted in ways that reinforce pre-existing views” – meaning that a second vote is unlikely to result in harmony.


However, that is not to say that nothing has changed.

Most post-referendum analysis showed that a perceived lack of control over migration was one of the most powerful issues driving the Leave vote.

That may have been true in 2016, but what is fascinating about this survey is that “the number of people who see immigration as one of the most important issues facing the country has more than halved from around 45 per cent in the months leading up to the referendum to under 20 per cent – the lowest level since 2001”.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May has insisted that delivering Brexit is all about reducing migration. But the British public has a much more nuanced view – according to this poll, most people appreciate the benefits as well as the costs, while past research has highlighted widespread public support for high-skilled migrants and foreign workers in specific jobs, such as healthcare, tech, and agriculture.

That’s an important piece of information to consider if we want to move forward.

But one last piece of wisdom from Curtice: contrary to popular belief, Remain voters do not have a better understanding of the EU than Leavers.

At this stage, no one can say what will happen, but we should at least try to resist the temptation to argue that millions of Brexit voters just didn’t understand the issues last time around.

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