Public split on government's Brexit priorities, and in the dark about Labour's

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
January 16, 2017, 9:57 AM GMT+0

Whilst 80% of people think they have an idea about the government's Brexit plans, they are evenly split on whether they are aiming for a 'Hard' or 'Soft' Brexit

In a hotly anticipated speech tomorrow, Theresa May is due to set to out her plans for Brexit. Clarity on the government’s position will be welcomed by many – with some commentators stating that the Prime Minister does not appear to have a plan for Brexit.

The most extreme example has been Sir Ivan Rogers, a civil servant who was Britain’s most senior representative at the EU, when he warned of the government’s “muddled thinking” during his shock resignation earlier in the month.

But if the government’s strategy to leave the EU is not clear to Westminster insiders, does the general public think they have a better idea of what is going on? New YouGov research reveals what type of Brexit the public thinks both the government and the Labour party want to bring about, as well as their own preferences.

Most people are clear on what they think the government wants, but they are split on exactly what that is…

At present, one in five Britons say they don’t know what the government’s Brexit priorities are. The rest are relatively split on what the government is trying to achieve.

The most popular belief was in an option analogous to a ‘Hard Brexit’: one in which the UK regains full control over how the country is governed and who can live here, even if that means not having a free trade relationship with the EU. Four in ten people think that this is the type of Brexit the government is working towards.

A further 28% of people think the government is working on an approach that prioritises securing the best trading links with Europe possible, even if this means still following some EU rules and giving up some control of the country’s borders. Another 9% believe the wanted to remain as close to the EU as possible and seek some form of associate membership.

Taken together, this means that 37% of Britons think the government is looking to achieve a scenario analogous to a ‘Soft’ Brexit – a similar proportion to those who think the government wants a ‘Hard’ Brexit.

A final 4% of Brits think that the government is trying to keep the Britain in the EU.

…although they are even less clear on the Labour party’s stance

There is, however, one major political player whose Brexit agenda is obscured to the public: the Labour party. Fully 42% of people said they weren’t sure what kind of Brexit Labour wants – more than twice as many as for the government.

About a third (35%) of people think Labour wants a Soft Brexit (evenly split between the two scenarios), whilst 8% think the party wants a Hard Brexit, and 15% think is trying to keep Britain in the EU despite the referendum result.

But what Brexit do the people want?

The research also reveals the general public’s Brexit preferences. Nearly four in ten people (39%) want to see a ‘Hard’ Brexit. Unsurprisingly this Brexit scenario was popular with Leave voters, 74% of whom said that this would be their preferred option (compared to 9% of Remain voters).

A further quarter of Britons want one of the two ‘Soft’ Brexit options. This rises to roughly a third for Remain voters (34%), compared to 15% of Leave voters.

Finally, 23% of people want to cancel Brexit and remain in the EU after all. Nearly half of Remain voters (48%) are still holding out hope that the referendum result will be overturned, whilst 1% of Leave voters have changed their minds and want to stay.

Not all commentators believe the government has been obfuscating on their Brexit vision. Writing in the Financial Times, columnist Janan Ganesh said that only the “dedicatedly obtuse” could not infer the Prime Minister’s intentions from her speech at the Conservative party conference last year. Obtuse or not, by the end of the day tomorrow hopefully we should all be much clearer on the future path the country is set to take.

Photo: PA

See the full results here