The UK and Europe

British public opinion is turning against Brexit

Peter Kellner / Dec 2017

Photo: Shutterstock

The latest Survation poll confirms that public opinion has moved away from Brexit since the summer. And like YouGov, Survation finds that movements below the surface are greater than on the basic for-or-against question.

Survation’s poll for the Mail on Sunday, conducted in the wake of the recent controversies over future UK payments to the EU, and the conundrum of the Irish border, suggests that if there were a referendum now, the result would be the reverse of that in the vote 18 months ago, with 52% voting to remain in the EU and 48% voting for Brexit. Survation’s last poll, in July, had the two sides almost exactly level-pegging. On its own, this small shift might be simply a product of sampling fluctuation; but YouGov, which conducts polls more frequently, has detected the same shift since the summer. It looks real, if still modest.

Possibly more significant is another question that Survation has repeated: once the Brexit negotiations are complete, would people support or oppose holding a fresh referendum on whether to accept or reject them? Back in July, voters divided 46-39% in favour of a fresh referendum. The latest figures are: support 50%, oppose 34%. A seven point margin in favour of a new vote has more than doubled to 16 points.

Survation’s detailed figures provide a clue as to what is happening. Attitudes towards a fresh referendum have barely shifted among those who voted Leave last year: in July they divided 54-33% against a new vote; today the division is 52-34%. But among Remain voters, the figures have shifted from 61-29% in favour of a fresh referendum in July, to 68-20% today.

This matters, because one of the arguments in recent months in favour of Brexit has been that many Remain voters have accepted the verdict of last year’s referendum and now just want to get on with getting out of the EU. That sentiment has not disappeared; but the rise in the numbers of Remain voters wanting a new referendum, and the sharp drop in those rejecting a new referendum, suggests that opposition to Brexit is hardening, not diminishing, as time passes and the complexities of the talks multiply.

One other Survation result is worth noting. People were asked how the prospect of leaving the EU made them feel. Just 30% said “excited”, while 41% said “fearful”. A further 24% said “neither”. The difference between Leave and Remain voters is striking. Only just over half of Leave voters – 57% – say they are excited, while as many as 72% of Remain voters are fearful. And 12% of Leave voters – that’s two million people – admit to being fearful (while just 6% of Remain voters say they are excited).

I hope Survation  tracks this question in the months ahead. It could provide a telling lead indicator of how the pro- and anti-Brexit numbers might move – and how a second referendum might play out.


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Peter Kellner

Peter Kellner

December 2017

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