The Will Of The People?
The 2016 referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU was won narrowly by a margin of 51.89 to 48.11%, on a turnout of 72% of those eligible to vote. If the percentage of those voting leave was calculated against the full electorate, the percentage expressing the wish to leave the EU was a minority of 37%. At the time of the poll, hardly anybody expected the result that was delivered; some people voted to leave as a protest vote (either generally, or specifically against the then PM David Cammeron); others made their decision on the basis of a “promise” that leaving would see the NHS benefit to the tune of £350 million per week. Leave campaigners claimed that there was no downside to Brexit, that the UK’s place in the Single Market was not threatened and that forging a free trade deal with the EU would be “the easiest in human history”. Nearly 40 months after the vote, the veracity (or lack thereof) of these claims is obvious to anybody who cares to look.
Ever since the vote, the Conservative government, first under May and now Johnson, has been at pains to state that the decision to leave is “the will of the people” and that democracy would suffer if it was not honoured with public trust in politicians strained (this is wishful thinking since the public has had very little trust in its politicians for many years already). However, when May sought to bolster her majority in 2017 with a snap general election she scraped back into power in a minority administration that had to rely on the support of the DUP for a working majority (which Johnson has long since lost). In local elections and in European elections, the Tory party lost support and a reasonable interpretation of the outcome showed support rising for overtly pro-remain parties.
The Evening Standard newspaper (edited by former Tory Chancellor, George Osborne) has just published a comprehensive “poll of polls” which reveals that public opinion has shifted to a remain position since the 2016 vote, based on an analysis of 300 such polls. Strikingly, it found that 204 out of 226 polls conducted since July 2017 (starting 13 months after the vote) showed a pro remain majority. Only seven showed a lead for leaving the EU still and 15 outcomes were tied. In the current year, only a single poll shows a leave majority opinion whilst the other 74 show a majority in favour of remaining in the EU.
The Conservative Party continues to lead opinion polls for the choice of the next government, but the Evening Standard results show that an ardently pro-Brexit, “no deal” electoral strategy could prove very risky.