UK still divided over Brexit with almost half country wanting to rejoin EU, poll finds

Deep generational divide over Europe, as young favour EU membership and old want to stay outside

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Saturday 07 March 2020 16:18 GMT
Brexit trade talks kick off in Brussels

Boris Johnson’s pleas for the UK to unite following Brexit have fallen on deaf ears, with the country still deeply split over the decision to leave the European Union, a new poll has suggested.

Some 46 per cent of those polled by BMG for The Independent said they would like to rejoin the EU, against 54 per cent who believe the UK should stay out.

And there was a deep generational divide, with 63 per cent of 18-24 year-olds, 60 per cent of 25-34 year-olds and 51 per cent of 35-44 year-olds wanting a return to Europe, while 69 per cent of over-65s want to stay out.

While the poll suggests some Remainers have become reconciled to Brexit, there was little sign that the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 January had persuaded the majority to accept leaving.

The 46-54 split in favour of staying out indicated a small swing in favour of Brexit since January, when a poll taken a fortnight before departure day found 52 per cent wanting to Remain and 48 to Leave.

But just 18 per cent of those who voted Remain in the 2016 referendum now said they wanted to stay outside the EU, compared to 82 per cent who want to return.

Large majorities of Labour voters (73 per cent), Liberal Democrats (85 per cent) and SNP supporters (86 per cent) wanted to be inside the EU, while 87 per cent of Conservatives wanted to stay out.

EU membership was backed by a majority (61 per cent) of those with degrees but opposed by 74 per cent of those with no qualifications. Large majorities in London (65 per cent) and Scotland (62 per cent), but all other regions recorded a majority to stay out, except the North-East, which was split 50/50.

The UK’s relationship with the EU remained high on voters’ list of priorities, with 49 per cent naming it as one of the most important issues facing the country - second only to healthcare.

Some 13 per cent named it as the most important issue, behind health on 29 per cent.

Responding to the survey, Liberal Democrat acting leader Ed Davey said: "Time and again young people tell me they fear the loss of our EU membership means the loss of opportunities and the ability to work with partners to tackle issues like the climate emergency.

"That is evident in Boris Johnson's scorched earth policy when it comes to continued UK participation in EU programmes, such as Erasmus.

"Instead of ensuring that our universities remain open, international and outward-looking, the Conservatives are determined to show that Brexit means going it alone.

"Young people's voices must be heard. That is why Liberal Democrats will never stop fighting for Britain to have the closest possible relationship with our European friends."

Ed Davey
Ed Davey (Reuters)

And Naomi Smith, the chief executive of Best for Britain, which campaigned for a second Brexit referendum, said: “There are many and varied reasons Brits are worried about the terms on which we leave the world’s largest single market.

“Concerns around job security are there and for some people, particularly young people who have only ever been European Brits, there’s a real sense of loss about what’s just happened.

“The Government doesn’t need to pit old against young.

“If it relaxes its wish for a quick divorce it can begin working out how we can retain as many of the benefits of EU membership as possible, giving young people greater security while still getting Brexit done.”

The chief executive of the European Movement, Hugo Mann, said: “This poll clearly demonstrates that Boris Johnson does not have a mandate for his destructive Brexit plans. The prime minister is trying to use the election to force through a damaging hard Brexit that will harm our economy and our NHS and limit opportunities for the next generation”.

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