23rd October 2019
Last week prime minister Boris Johnson and EU leaders announced a new deal on the terms of the UK’s withdrawal. Between Friday 18th and Monday 21st October, Deltapoll asked a representative sample of 2017 adults in Britain what they thought of that deal. Some 32% support the deal, not much more than the 29% that oppose it. Unsurprisingly, given how fresh the deal is, fully 39% say they do not know whether they support or oppose the deal.
While opinion might change, if the experience of May’s deal is anything to go by, initial impressions may well be indicative of longer term attitudes. May’s deal was always opposed more than it was supported. Johnson’s deal is off to a better start.
May’s deal was a compromise between ending free-movement of EU citizens to the UK, and maintaining close economic ties with the EU. Johnson’s deal keeps the former but weakens the latter. Given that previous research shows that most people, on both sides of the Brexit divide, want to limit EU migration while maintaining free trade with the EU, that Johnson’s deal should prove more popular than May’s is somewhat of a puzzle.
Rather than becoming the happy compromise that brought people together, May’s deal ended up rather friendless in the middle. Only among Conservative Remainers, like herself, did May’s deal achieve more support than opposition.
Boris Johnson has promoted his deal as the way to “get Brexit done”, even though most Remain voters are not particularly keen on that goal. As a result, the prime minister has apparently alienated Remain voters, of whom only 16% support his deal.
He has, however, managed to appeal to Leave voters and unite his party around the prospect of electoral success. Johnson’s deal has clear majority support among Leave voters (54%) and among those who voted Conservative in 2017 (57%), and less than 14% opposition in both these groups. Fully two-thirds of those who voted for both Leave in 2016 and the Tories in 2017 support Johnson’s deal, while just 9% of them oppose it.
At the other end of the scale, of those who neither voted Leave nor Conservative, only 10% support the deal. This drops to 8% among the non-Tories who voted Remain.
In between, two groups of voters appear to be conflicted: Conservative Remainers and those who voted Leave but not for the Conservatives. Voters in both these groups were more likely to say they don’t know what to think about the deal (45% and 42% respectively). But still they are more likely to support than oppose the deal.
Johnson’s deal seems to have polarised opinion, not just along the usual Leave/Remain divide, but between Conservative Leavers and those who are neither of those things. These groups will be hard to reconcile if and when Johnson, or anyone else, tries to “bring our country together”.
Polarising sentiment too
While May’s deal struggled to muster any enthusiasm, even among its supporters, Johnson’s deal has fans who appear to think it is great. Those who support Johnson’s deal tend to think that it is fair (78%), good for Britain (72%), good news for people like themselves (63%), represents a real Brexit (64%) and worth all the effort (63%).
However, those who oppose the deal typically think it is unfair (65%), bad for Britain (83%), bad news for people like themselves (76%), does not represent a real Brexit (65%) and not worth all the effort (84%).
Perceptions of winners and losers
While supporters and opponents of the deal are strongly polarised in their views of the merits and defects of the deal for themselves and the people of Britain, they are not so divided when it comes to questions of the relative benefits for Britain and the EU.
True, those who support the deal tend to think that it benefits Britain more than the rest of the EU (48% to 19% who think Britain is the main beneficiary), whereas those opposed to the deal are more likely to think it benefits the EU more (46%) than Britain more (13%). But only 18% of supporters think that the deal “represents a victory for Britain over the European Union”. Similarly, only 26% of opponents of the deal see the EU as victors.
Both supporters and opponents tend to agree that neither side of the negotiations won over the other. More supporters of the deal think it represents a victory for both (35%) than a victory for neither (26%), but a majority of opponents of the deal (55%) say neither side won.
When will it end?
Although supporters of the deal have great confidence in its merits, and fully 83% of them think Boris Johnson is doing his job well, just 29% expect Brexit to be finished by the end of October.
Still fewer of the general population, 15%, think Brexit will be finished by the end of the month. That could be because they rightly appreciate that even if the UK leaves the EU by then, Brexit will not be “finished.” Indeed, some 31% of voters “don’t expect the issue of Brexit will ever be finished.”
The earliest date by which a majority expect Brexit to be completed is 2023. There are plenty of trade negotiators who think even that would be ambitious, not to mention political scientists who think that there will always be some substantial group campaigning to change Britain’s relationship with Europe.