Brexit: New poll shows Britons don't understand what Theresa May wants from withdrawal

Exclusive: The survey points to confusion over what the Government is seeking just months before a deal is meant to be agreed 

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Saturday 10 February 2018 19:02
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Poll shows Britons don't understand what Theresa May wants from Brexit

Britain is being kept in the dark about Brexit with the vast majority of people having little or no understanding of what the Government wants to achieve, a new poll has revealed.

The exclusive BMG Research survey for The Independent suggests around three-quarters of the public have little idea as to what Theresa May wants overall, but also specifically in relation to critical areas like trade and immigration.

There is acute confusion over the Government’s approach to the land border in Northern Ireland, ironically an issue supposed to have been settled already, which more than 80 per cent of the public said was “unclear”.

The results undermine repeated claims by ministers that the Government has a “clear plan for Brexit”, pointing instead to a deep lack of public understanding about Ms May’s ideas just months before the final deal is supposed to be agreed.

They are also likely to be leapt upon by MPs and campaigners pushing for the British public to be given a further say on the final Brexit deal, once they have an understanding of what it looks like.

The poll asked respondents to consider a series of different areas of the UK’s withdrawal negotiations and whether the Government’s plans are “clear or unclear”.

On “overall plans for Brexit” 74 per cent said Ms May’s plans were unclear (“not very”, 35 per cent, “not at all”, 39 per cent), while just 17 per cent said they were clear (“very”, three per cent, “somewhat”, 14 per cent).

Labour MPs have asked the NEC to let party members have a say on the approach to Brexit

Trade is the most important area of negotiations economically, but the poll suggested 74 per cent of the public are in the dark about what the Government is trying to achieve (”not very” clear 36 per cent, “not at all”, 38 per cent), while just 15 per cent thought it is clear (”very”, three per cent, somewhat, 12 per cent).

The poll pointed to a similar level lack of understanding over what Ms May is really gunning for in her future policy for immigration, which was the defining issue of the 2016 referendum on Britain’s membership.

Some 75 per cent said plans for post-Brexit immigration are unclear (“not very”, 36 per cent, “not at all”, 39 per cent), while just 14 per cent felt there were clear (“very”, three per cent, “somewhat”, 11 per cent).

At the EU Council Summit in December the Government agreed a settlement in principle to address “withdrawal issues”, including EU citizens’ rights and what will happen in regards to the land border in Northern Ireland.

But despite Ms May’s claims to have reached a deal, the BMG poll suggested the British public are none the wiser as to what it means.

In total, 82 per cent of those questioned said plans for the border are unclear (“not very”, 37 per cent, “not at all”, 44 per cent), while 18 per cent said they are clear (“very”, three per cent, “somewhat”, 15 per cent).

In relation to EU citizens’ rights, 62 per cent thought plans are unclear and a total of 25 per cent thought plans clear.

The last week has seen the Conservative Party tearing itself apart over what kind of customs arrangements the UK will have with the EU after Brexit.

Ms May’s spokesman answered questions about the Government’s stance by referring to options set out in a positioning paper past year.

It suggested that instead of the EU Customs Union, the Government wanted either a “highly streamlined customs arrangement” or a “customs partnership” – but almost two-thirds questioned in the poll said they failed to understand what the options meant, or the different between them.

Michel Barnier: Brexit transition deal 'not a given'

Some 62 per cent said: “I don’t understand these terms and the difference between them”, while 22 per cent said they did, and 17 per cent said they did not know.

Senior figures from across the political spectrum, including Nigel Farage, Peter Mandelson, Vince Cable and Michael Heseltine, have suggested the British public should be given another chance to vote on Brexit.

Remainers have long argued that the British public voted in the 2016 referendum without a full understanding of what Brexit would mean.

The polling now indicates that despite being a year and a half on from the referendum, people still do not by and large comprehend what Brexit will look like.

At the election, the Conservatives made a big play of promoting “Theresa May’s Clear Plan For Brexit” – saying that whoever becomes prime minster should be ready to start negotiating.

The very first item in the “12-point plan” was to “provide certainty and clarity”, but business groups, Tory and opposition politicians and the EU have constantly found themselves asking for more clarity about the Government’s position.

Last week the top figures in Ms May’s Cabinet failed to reach an agreement on how the Government should approach negotiations for a final deal, with further meeting expected in the weeks to come.

On Thursday, Japan’s ambassador to the UK Koji Tsuruoka said companies from his country that are operating in Britain badly needed “clarity and certainty”.

Source Note: BMG Research interviewed a representative sample of 1,507 GB adults online between 6-9 February. Data are weighted. BMG are members of the British Polling Council and abide by their rules

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