The public deserve a say on the terms of Brexit

The incentive from the point of view of the European Union is to make the deal available to the UK as unpalatable as possible, either to change the mind of the British, or to discourage other disgruntled EU member states from following the British example

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What does the public want from Brexit? The answer, as our poll reveals, is straightforward: the best possible deal for the UK – that much is obvious – but also for the country to remain in the European Union until such time as such a deal is achieved.

To be clear, there is a hardcore group of those so hostile to the EU that they will never support membership, and would actively agree to crashing out of the bloc on the worst possible terms. For these sincere Leavers are at least consistent in their views; for them even having to rely on the basic World Trade Organisation rules and seeing a significant fall in British national income and living standards is a price worth paying to be free of Brussels’ influence to “reclaim” our borders and limit migration from the rest of Europe.

However, a much larger group believe that either the UK should remain in the EU in any case, either on the existing terms or on a revised basis, or return to Brussels to renegotiate the Brexit deal. There is thus, overall, a substantial majority either for simply continuing membership or for additional rounds of renegotiation until Parliament is content with the deal that Theresa May and her ministers manage to agree.

Of course a “better deal”, like any better tomorrow, is not a given. As has been well noted, it takes two to tango in Brussels, and there is no necessary reason why the EU’s negotiators would agree to an improved package for the UK even if Parliament sends Ms May to get back on the Eurostar to ask for more. Indeed, the incentive from the point of view of the European Union is to make the deal available to the UK as unpalatable as possible, either to change the mind of the British, or to discourage other disgruntled EU member states from following the British example. But negotiation and deal-making are a way of life in the European Union, after all, and it is perfectly possible that the British negotiators could secure some additional concessions. It could even be, though it has become an unfashionable view, that some of the airy talk from the Leave side during the referendum campaign might even come true.

Thus, both sides might come to their senses and realise that some agreement on trade, access to the single market, maybe even on movement of EU nationals to and from the UK is in the interests of all sides. That’s certainly worth the price of a few more Eurostar tickets when the time comes.

The wider point, that no one knows what the terms of a new deal may be, and thus were not in a position to pass judgement last June, is also underlined by our poll. Apart from the roughly one third of the electorate who appear to be irreconcilable, and the roughly one fifth who plainly wish to remain come what may, there is a much more pragmatic outlook among the rest of the population. Their judgement will be based on a rational assessment of the economic and other arguments when the time comes – and the facts are better known. Through their representatives in the House of Commons, or directly through a referendum on the terms of Brexit, they have the right to be consulted on this most momentous of changes.

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