Is The Brexit Debate Really Over? Perhaps Not

Posted on 10 March 2023 by John Curtice

For the most part, politicians on both sides of the Brexit debate have decided that the decision made seven years ago is not for turning. Not only do the Conservatives, who implemented Brexit, take that view but Labour spokespersons also state that the decision to leave has been taken and should not be revisited. Meanwhile, although the party’s conference has backed a significant softening of the current Brexit deal, the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Ed Davey, has emphasised that his party is not a ‘rejoin’ one. The only party with significant representation at Westminster that does not share this consensus is the SNP.

Yet, in line with the readings of many other polls over the last year, today’s poll from Redfield & Wilton Strategies for UK in a Changing Europe indicates that, if there were to be another referendum, a majority would vote to re-join the EU. Still, that does not necessarily mean that most voters think the issue should be revisited. Whatever their preferred relationship with the EU, perhaps many feel they do not want to see a divisive debate re-opened? Or perhaps they think the chances of the decision being reversed are now so low that it is not worth revisiting the issue?

Of this mood, however, there is relatively little sign. In their latest poll, Redfield & Wilton asked respondents if:

The question of whether the United Kingdom should or should not be a member of European Union is…

… Settled and should NOT be re-opened


… NOT settled and should be re-opened

The question divided respondents almost equally down the middle. While 44% said that Brexit was settled and should not be re-opened, almost as many, 43%, expressed the opposite view. As we might anticipate, those who would vote to stay out of the EU overwhelmingly believe – by 86% to 10% – that the issue should not be revisited. In contrast, most of those who would vote to re-join, 72%, take the opposite view, though there is a minority, 19%, who feel it should not. (There is, though, no evidence that the 19% are more likely than the 72% to regard Brexit as a fait accompli. They are neither less likely to think that the UK might apply to re-join the EU in future nor more likely to think that the EU would reject any application.)

One would anticipate that those who think the issue is not settled would be likely to back having another referendum on the subject. Indeed, no less than 90% of those who were of that view also said they supported having a referendum on re-joining the EU within the next five years. In contrast, among those who said that Brexit is settled, 57% said that they opposed having another referendum in the next five years, while just 26% were in favour – though these figures suggest that opinion among this group is somewhat more divided than it is among those who believe Brexit is not settled. Overall, 55% of respondents said they were in favour of having another ballot, while 27% stated that they were opposed.

That said, Redfield & Wilton tested the robustness of this latter finding by also asking their respondents whether they supported or opposed NOT having another referendum on Brexit in the next five years. Asked this way, the balance of opinion among those who said Brexit was settled was somewhat more strongly tilted against having another ballot – 62% said they supported not having a referendum, while 18% were opposed. More striking, however, was the difference in the balance of opinion among those who said that Brexit was not settled – 62% said they were opposed to not having a ballot, while 18% were in favour, the exact mirror image of the position among those for whom Brexit is settled. As a result, among all voters those saying they were opposed to not having another referendum (36%) were exactly counterbalanced by those in favour (36%).

It is possible that, in answering the poll quickly, some respondents may not have spotted that the meaning of ‘support’ and ‘oppose’ had been reversed in the second question about not having a referendum. Yet perhaps it is also the case that some of those who think that Brexit is not settled are inclined to prefer having another referendum rather than being insistent that one should take place. However, even if we favour the latter interpretation, it does appear that voters are more or less evenly divided in their attitude towards whether the debate about Brexit is over or not. For some at least of those who are unhappy about the UK’s exit from the EU, ‘Make Brexit Work’ may have its limitations as a rallying cry.

This blog is also posted on the website.


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By John Curtice

John Curtice is Senior Research Fellow at NatCen and at 'UK in a Changing Europe', Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, and Chief Commentator on the What UK Thinks: EU website.

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