It took 279 days after the EU referendum, but the Government has now triggered Article 50, and the formal two-year negotiation period has begun.
This week’s Brexit Diaries – recording the views of 100 citizens across Britain, 52 who voted to leave and 48 who voted to remain – continue to reveal a deeply divided nation with sharply contrasting opinions about the road ahead.
Over the months since the Brexit Diaries began, we have identified four distinct Brexit segments amongst the British public.
‘Die-hard’ leave supporters, who see no downside at all to leaving the EU; ‘Cautious Optimists’, who believe quitting the EU is the right thing to do but are concerned about what happens next; ‘Accepting Pragmatists’ – remainers who have come to terms with the result and now want the best Brexit for Britain; and ‘Devastated Pessimists’, who continue to see nothing positive about leaving the EU.
The responses from our diarists to the triggering of Article 50 perfectly illustrate these four perspectives. "I feel victorious – Happy Brexit Day!" said one of our Die-hards.
At the other end of the spectrum, a Devastated Pessimist felt very differently: "I just wish it wasn’t happening. I’m as gutted as ever about it".
Reflecting the polarised nature of the debate, the majority of the public is split fairly evenly between these two extreme ends of the spectrum.
But a third of the public is now somewhere in the middle.
Our Cautious Optimists have mixed emotions over Article 50 being triggered, "I’m a bit happy and a bit nervous, too, because we don’t know what’s coming next", while our Accepting Pragmatists showed characteristic resignation: "I feel nervous, but the decision has been made – I just hope it will work out ok in the end".
Our diarists were this week also focused on whether the Government can secure a good deal for Britain.
Here, their views continue to reflect a second consistent theme throughout the Brexit Diaries: our leave segments are always ‘on-message’, reflecting the disciplined communications from the Government and the Brexit-supporting media, while our Remain segments’ views are far more disparate, reflecting the absence of clear leadership or message discipline from the remnants of the remain camp.
This week, our leavers’ comments on the prospects for Britain getting a good deal could have been lifted from the pages of the Daily Mail. "No deal is better than a bad deal", said one. "WTO rules will be fine", said another. "They need us more than we need them".
A third, consistently striking theme of the Brexit Diaries has been the sky-high, if possibly unrealistic, expectations for what Brexit will bring.
As our diarists this week look ahead to 2019, many leave voters are more hopeful than ever.
They say: "Once we stop immigration and get a good trade deal, we will do very well". "We’ll be much better off and we’ll spend more on healthcare". "We’ll be in charge of our own destiny, no longer slowed down by an alien authority – the world is our oyster now".
As Article 50 is triggered, Britain is deeply divided, with many voters believing they’ve been promised the rebirth of a nation.
As the government embarks on the most complex negotiation for generations, they face an uphill task to heal our society and deliver on such huge expectations.
Spencer Livermore is a partner at BritainThinks
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