Voters more pessimistic about the outcome of Brexit, but have not changed their minds about what Brexit should mean


A new report by Senior Research Fellow, John Curtice, for the National Centre for Social Research’s (NatCen) website, What UK Thinks: EU, reveals that the UK public, including those who voted Leave in the EU referendum, have become more critical of the way the negotiations are being handled and more pessimistic about what the consequences of Brexit will be.

“Half-Time in the Brexit Negotiations: The Voters’ Scorecard” is published just over half-way in between the date of the EU referendum and the date the UK is due to leave the EU – 29 March 2019.   2200 people took part in the most recent survey, carried out just after the election in July, and in October when negotiations were underway.

Findings (Source: NatCen)

  • 52% now think Britain will get a bad deal, up from 37% in February
  • 61% now say the UK government is handling the negotiations badly, up from 41% in February
  • 57% say the EU is handling the negotiations badly, up from 47% in February
  • The proportion of Leave voters who think the UK will secure a good deal out of Brexit has fallen from 51% on February to 28%
  • 21% of Leave voters think the UK government has handled the Brexit negotiations well, down from 42% in February

Nevertheless, according to the research, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the balance of public opinion on what kind of Brexit the UK should be seeking has not changed markedly during the course of this year.

64% still think that ‘people from the EU who want to come to live here’ should have ‘to apply to do so in the same way as people from outside the EU’, only slightly down on the 68% who backed this provision in February.

Above all, at 53%, the proportion who think we should ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ allow freedom of movement for EU citizens in return for securing free trade with the EU is no higher than the 54% who expressed that view in February.

Senior Research Fellow John Curtice says, “It might be thought the increased pessimism is primarily the result of Remain voters becoming increasingly disenchanted with the Brexit process. If so, then there would be no reason to anticipate that the increased pessimism might have changed the balance of opinion on what kind of Brexit the UK should be seeking. However, this is not what has happened. Rather, pessimism has become much more widespread amongst those who voted Leave.”

“Between them our two findings point to an important lesson – it should not be presumed that growing disappointment and discontent with the Brexit process will necessarily persuade voters to change their minds about the kind of Brexit the UK should be seeking, or their view about the wisdom of leaving the EU in the first place. So far, at least, voters seem inclined to blame the actors in the Brexit process for their perceived failure to be delivering what voters want rather than draw the conclusion that the act of leaving is misguided. A difficult Brexit could simply prove politically costly for Mrs May and her beleaguered government rather than a catalyst for a change of heart on Brexit.”


For full report details please contact Kirsty O’Driscoll:; 0207 549 8506 or Sophie Brown:; 0207 549 9550.


  1. The ‘What UK Thinks: Europe’ website can be accessed at It provides a comprehensive collection of polling and survey data on attitudes in the UK towards Europe, data on what the rest of Europe thinks about the EU, and impartial commentary and analysis on the evidence of the polls. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of its initiative on ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’.


  1. NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.


  1. The UK in a Changing Europe initiative – – promotes independent, rigorous, high-quality academic research into the complex and ever changing relationship between the UK and the European Union. It provides an authoritative, non-partisan and impartial reference point for those looking for information, insights and analysis on UK-EU relations.


  1. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.

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