It is now almost 18 months since 17.4 million voters (52%) opted to Leave the European Union in the EU Referendum. Since then, politicians and commentators wishing to reverse or dilute this clear result, have tried to create the impression of a significant proportion of Leave voters changing their mind, and have implied they would vote differently in a second Referendum.
Most recently, reviled former Prime Minister Tony Blair told Le Figaro he thinks Brexit could be reversed after “new facts” emerge. Yet polling data does not support the theory of ‘Bregret’; in fact, a large majority of Britons want the Government to get on with Brexit – and as soon as possible.
The Remoaner campaign began on the morning after the Referendum, when TV news reporters searched for Leave voters who were prepared to say on television they regretted their Leave vote. These one or two examples were seized upon to paint a picture of swathes of Leave voters who apparently realised they had been lied to by a red bus.
There certainly was a sense of concern among the public after the Referendum as political events moved quickly. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, resigned before he could deliver on his promise to trigger Article 50 after a Leave vote. During the subsequent Conservative Party leadership campaign, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson fell out, meaning there was no Brexiteer figurehead to lead the country. The divisions between the two main Leave campaigns, Vote Leave and Leave.EU, continued. However, concern about a leadership vacuum should not be seen as regret for voting to leave the EU and take back control of our borders, laws and substantial sums of money.
The belief of Remoaners like Nick Clegg and Tony Blair in the ‘Bregret’ phenomenon, reflects their desire for a re-run of the Referendum and a reversal of Brexit. In the months after the Referendum, polling companies were able to test this idea of ‘Bregret’, and largely found it to be a myth. YouGov’s regular EuroTrack poll asks about voting intentions in an EU Referendum and found similar results to before the referendum: about equal support for Remain and Leave, with perhaps a slight advantage to Leave. The same company’s “Do you think Britain was right to vote to Leave” tracker poll likewise found equal proportions for “Right” and “Wrong”.
Perhaps a more pertinent question for policy decisions today, and the Remoaner agitations for a second Referendum, is whether the public want the Government to press ahead with Brexit plans, regardless of their vote in 2016. Polls on this subject reveal a large majority of voters respect the Referendum result and want politicians to get on with Brexit. A September poll from YouGov revealed a split in the Remainer chunk of the electorate between “Hard Remainers” (only 27% of all voters) who want to reverse the Referendum result and “Re-Leavers” (17%) who want the result implemented. This gives an overall majority of 62% who want the Government to deliver Brexit.
Not only do these “Re-Leavers” want to uphold democracy, but many may have been swayed to the cause of Brexit by the intransigence of the EU in the negotiations, the upcoming development of an EU army via PESCO and the strong performance of the British economy since the vote. This is, of course, in stark contrast to the Project Fear lies of the Remain campaign prior to the Referendum.
We can also examine the type of Brexit favoured by most voters, according to the surveys. Anna Soubry MP and other Remoaners have suggested keeping the UK closely attached to the EU via membership of the Single Market and Customs Union. This would not be a real Brexit, as we would still be subject to payments to the EU, freedom of movement and EU regulations. As Jacob Rees-Mogg MP has said, this would prevent us achieving the benefits of Brexit, such as free trade deals with countries around the world.
But is this proposal popular among voters? No, according to several polls. On 10th April, Lord Ashcroft reported 42% of respondents seeing control of migration as more important than access to the Single Market (34%). An Opinium poll of 4th April found large majorities of Leave voters believing Brexit would not be worthwhile without ending the jurisdiction of the EU (62%), ending financial contributions to the EU budget (62%) and reducing immigration (54%). Indeed, there are widespread concerns, across Remain and Leave voters, about the effect of cheap labour on the low-paid and the ability of public services to cope with current levels. According to research from NatCen in March this year, two thirds of all voters want new controls on EU immigration.
What about the Government’s mantra of “No Deal is better than a Bad Deal”, much criticised by the Labour leadership? Sky Data’s survey in October finds almost three quarters of the Great British Public are in agreement with the Government on this. It seems the average voter, unlike the Labour party, understands this is an important principle in any negotiation.
It is clear from polling data that while voters’ opinions on the merits of Remain and Leave has been largely unchanged since the Referendum, a large majority of the electorate want the Government to get on with Brexit. There is a clear wish to regain control of immigration and Freedom of Movement, and therefore the necessity of leaving the Single Market. The Government must not waver from its mission to Get Britain Out, and must reject calls for another Referendum.