The Brexit Diaries, revisited: No one feels like they are winning

PRWeek continues its partnership with insight and strategy consultancy BritainThinks in a unique project to take the temperature of both leave and remain voters.

Leave or Remain; neither side feel they are winning from Brexit
Leave or Remain; neither side feel they are winning from Brexit

"I think the only winners of Brexit will be the politicians and wealthy people" – Leave voter, BritainThinks research conducted in March 2018

A year since Theresa May triggered Article 50, no one feels like they’re winning from Brexit. This is the stark finding of new research published this week.

This time last year, our focus groups repeatedly underlined the high hopes that Leave voters had for post-Brexit Britain.

One Leave voter, summing up the mood of 52 per cent of the electorate, told us: "I am looking forward to it. This is a fantastic opportunity to rebuild the country: more police, better hospitals, more schools and teachers."

A year on, and those hopes have vanished.

While there is little evidence to suggest that many Leave voters have changed their mind or want to stop Brexit, the warm post-referendum afterglow has gone.

Voters find it very easy to identify the losers of Brexit (for Remain voters, it’s the less affluent; for Leave voters, it’s the NHS), but it's much harder to pinpoint the winners.

When pushed, people tend to say that big business and the "elite" are going to do best from Brexit – and this is as true of Remain voters as it is of Leave voters.

This view that business will win from Brexit isn’t a positive one – instead, it is wrapped up in widespread public mistrust of greedy fat cats and irresponsible executives who take away from British society more than they add.

The broader disillusionment with Brexit is driven by a number of factors.

Firstly, the public are bored by Brexit – "the process is everlasting, tedious and confusing", as one Remain voter put it.

Politics doesn’t interest most ordinary people at the best of times, but disentangling the UK from the EU is a particularly arcane topic and (as Brenda from Bristol famously put it to the BBC last year) "there’s been too much politics recently".

The particularly "he said, she said" playground dynamic of the Brexit everyday – the Punch and Judy politics that so many ordinary people detest – adds to public disengagement.

On top of this, most people think that negotiations are going badly.

About two-thirds of the public say that negotiations have progressed poorly and just a quarter think that we will get a good deal.

Even the most passionate Leave voters struggle to see how the UK will emerge with anything other than a bad deal at the end of the process.

Leave voters tend to see poor progress in negotiations as an issue of motive – believing that the Government or the EU leadership (or a combination of the two) is deliberately trying to obstruct.

For Remain voters, this boils down to competence – most think Theresa May and her Cabinet are "the blind leading the blind" and simply aren’t up to the job: "It could not be worse – we look like mean-minded fools."

Despite frustration with the process of negotiations, however, there is little evidence to suggest that support for leaving the EU has diminished.

Low engagement with the everyday ups and downs of negotiations means that few are actively considering (or reconsidering) their position from the referendum.

And, whatever their misgivings about the process, the arguments that led 52 per cent of the electorate to vote Leave – principally around immigration and sovereignty – still resonate: "The losers will be lazy spongers who don’t come here to work."

On top of this, "Leave" or "Remain" have ceased to be markers of a one-off voting decision in 2016 and have become instead, for many people, part of an identity that comes with a range of associated worldviews.

So, what happens next?

Our research indicates that there is support across the political spectrum for a vote on the final deal between the UK and the EU.

Unsurprisingly, Remain voters see this as a chance to "right the wrong" of the 2016 referendum.

But Leave voters are also positive about having a vote – this is driven by arguments of democracy and ensuring that the people has a say on this issue of a generation.

As one Leave voter puts it: "Why should the public not have a say? It was us that voted Leave in the first place."

Tom Clarkson is associate director at BritainThinks

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