New Report reviews the evidence on what sort of Brexit deal the British Public wants


CSI is pleased to release a new report, written by Noah Carl, that reviews the evidence on what sort of Brexit deal the British public wants. It does not argue for or against any particular Brexit deal, but rather aims to demarcate the various options on the table, and to synthesise information from a large number of surveys and opinion polls.

The first section of the report outlines the various possible deals that could be struck between the UK and the EU over the next 18 months. The second section reviews the evidence that has been gleaned from polls and surveys so far about what sort of Brexit deal the British public actually prefer. And the third section examines how support for “soft” versus “hard” Brexit has changed since the EU referendum by conducting a simple meta-analysis of polls. The report’s main conclusions (summarised on p. 2) are as follows:

  • An important distinction has emerged between so-called “soft” Brexit, where Britain stays inside the Single Market and the Customs Union, and so-called “hard” Brexit, where Britain leaves both of these institutions without a trade deal.
  • Several possible Brexit deals lie between these two extremes, including the Norway option, the Liechtenstein option, the Switzerland option, the Turkey option, and the Canada option.
  • Other issues relevant to Britain’s Brexit deal include: the degree of friction at the Irish border, the size of any exit fee, the status of EU citizens living in Britain, and the extent of future cooperation between Britain and the EU on matters like energy, research and security.
  • About 25-30% of Britons want to stop Brexit completely, and about the same fraction are in favour of a second referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
  • Substantial majorities of the public say they want: EU citizens already living in Britain to have the right to stay, the power to control immigration, and continued free trade with the EU.
  • A simple meta-analysis of polls reveals that support for “soft” versus “hard” Brexit has followed a roughly U-shaped path since the EU referendum: it went down during the winter of 2016-17, and has since gone back up.
  • Overall, support for support for “soft” versus “hard” Brexit is fairly even. Yet a sizable majority of the public regard continued freedom of movement as incompatible with the referendum result.

As the report notes, pollsters and academics have assessed what sort of Brexit deal Britons might want in a variety of ways, and these have not always produced consistent results. For example, when asked directly, the public are about evenly split on the putative trade-off between staying in the Single Market and having control over immigration. Yet, when asked about what outcomes would and would not respect the result of the referendum, a sizable majority say that continued free movement would not respect it. Similarly, while one study that used discrete choice modelling concluded that the public would prefer a deal broadly akin to the Norway option, another study that used conventional polling concluded that the Canada option is the most popular type of Brexit deal.

The report focuses on the key issues of Single Market access, control over immigration, and the status of EU citizens living in Britain. In addition, its conclusions are limited to findings judged to be the most consistent in the literature. For readers who would like to know even more about what the British public wants from Brexit, the following five articles are particularly informative:

‘What do voters want from Brexit?’ by John Curtice. Accessible here: https://whatukthinks.org/eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Analysis-paper-9-What-do-voters-want-from-Brexit.pdf

‘Canada Option’ is most popular type of Brexit deal’ by Anthony Wells. Accessible here: https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/08/18/majority-people-think-freedom-movement-fair-price-/

‘Hard – but not too hard: More on what voters want from Brexit’ by John Curtice. Accessible here: https://whatukthinks.org/eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Hard-but-not-too-hard.-Much-more-on-what-voters-want-from-Brexit.pdf

‘What sort of Brexit do the British people want?’ by Charlene Rohr, Alexandra Pollitt, David Howarth, Hui Lu and Jonathan Grant. Accessible here: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/policy-institute/publications/What-sort-of-Brexit-do-the-British-people-want.pdf

‘The British are indifferent about many aspects of Brexit, but Leave and Remain voters are divided on several key issues’ by Sara Hobolt and Thomas Leeper. Accessible here: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2017/08/13/the-british-are-indifferent-about-many-aspects-of-brexit-but-leave-and-remain-voters-are-divided-on-several-key-issues/

The totality of the evidence indicates that, at the present time, there is not overwhelming public support for or against any specific Brexit deal. As noted above, things like granting EU citizens the right to stay, the power to control immigration, and continued free trade are widely popular. Yet recent polls continue to show that the public is split on the putative trade-off between staying in the Single Market and having control over immigration. This should not be very surprising. After all, recent polls also indicate that the public remains split on the question of whether Brexit was the wrong or the right decision. Consequently, until new evidence emerges, headlines suggesting overwhelming support for or against any specific Brexit deal should be treated with a suitable degree of caution.

 

Noah Carl, 28th August 2017.

The report is part of a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s The UK in a Changing Europe initiative. See the CSI project page, and the UK in a Changing Europe release.