Public opinion across the UK has shifted decisively against Brexit over the last 18 months, according to an analysis of over 200 opinion polls.
Since the start of 2018 111 out of 121 polls involving more than 300,000 people have favoured remaining in the European Union (EU). Only three polls have show a majority wanting to leave, with seven tied 50-50.
The analysis suggests that opinion began to swing against Brexit in mid-2017, with opposition steadily increasing since then. Polls say that there is now a 6-12 per cent majority in favour of remaining, compared to a 3-4 per cent majority for leaving at the time of the referendum in June 2016.
“Support to remain has been dominant for 18 months,” he told The Ferret. “So why have parliament and the media focused largely on the 40 shades of Brexit, at the expense of the arguments to remain?”
The story of the ever-growing wish to remain in the EU has gone unnoticed, Chisholm argued. “This is the classic circus of the media,” he said.
“As the battle of the leave species becomes ever more spectacular, so the less entertaining but far more rational remain argument is relegated to the wings. If we end up leaving the EU, it will be as much about the silence of remain as the noise for leave.”
Chisholm has studied the results of over 200 opinion polls on Brexit by different pollsters since the 2016 referendum. The polls have been collated by the social research agency, NatCen.
His conclusion is that the government’s mandate from the EU referendum has disappeared. Since mid-2017, a wide variety of polls have shown “consistent and accelerating” support for remaining in the EU, he said.
His analysis is based on the answers to three questions that members of the public gave to pollsters. One was on whether they thought it was right or wrong to vote to leave the EU.
Immediately after the referendum, 2-4 per cent more people said it was right to vote to leave. But now at least six per cent more think it was wrong to vote to leave.
According to Chisholm, the balance of opinion shifted around July 2017. The last time a majority of people said they believed it was right to leave was in July 2018, he said.
There were similar trends for two other polling questions. One asked whether the UK should remain a member of the EU or leave, while the other asked how people would vote in another referendum.
The resulting picture is “irrefutable”, Chisholm argued. Most people now believe that the UK should remain in the EU, that it was a mistake to vote to leave and would vote to remain, given the chance.
“The momentum toward remain started almost immediately after the referendum,” he said.
“The disparity has continued to grow to a point where the gap in favour of remain is now up to 12 points, compared to before the referendum when it was around 3-4 per cent in favour of leave.”
He added: “The argument that a referendum based on untruths two and a half years ago is still valid is nonsense. The people saw through the con-trick over 18 months ago, and the majority wish to remain.”
Chisholm sent his analysis to the opinion poll guru and Strathclyde University politics professor, Sir John Curtice. Curtice has since agreed that there’s been a “modest but perceptible increase in the lead of remain over leave in the last nine months”.
But Curtice pointed out that this does not necessarily equate with people changing their minds. “Much of the movement since 2016 has been occasioned by the seemingly increased pro-remain views of those who did not vote two and a half years ago rather than because of switching from leave to remain,” he told The Ferret.
He added, though, that there had also been a small shift to remain caused by a reduction in the relative loyalty of leave supporters. “It looks though there has been a modest but discernible softening of the leave vote,” he said.
Those who wish to question whether Brexit does still represent the will of the people do now have rather more evidence with which to back their argument. Sir John Curtis, Strathclyde University
“As a result, those who wish to question whether Brexit does still represent the will of the people do now have rather more evidence with which to back their argument.”
Curtice has also suggested that the reducing loyalty of leave voters could be attributed to increased pessimism about the economic impact of Brexit. One series of polls indicates that the number of leave voters who think the economy would be better after Brexit has dropped since May 2018.
The polling evidence was seized on by the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum on EU membership. “There is now a clear and consistent majority in favour of keeping our current deal in the EU,” said campaign spokesperson, Barney Pell Scholes.
“All the analysis and all the polling and all the data shows that opinions on Brexit have shifted significantly since the referendum over two and a half years ago.”
He added: “With a clear majority of people now in favour of keeping our current deal in the EU, the politicians in Westminster must listen and give the public the final say through a People’s Vote.”
According to the Scottish National Party (SNP), Scotland’s support for staying in the EU had strengthened, and people preferred Scottish independence to Brexit.
“The best future for Scotland – and the UK as a whole – is as a continued member of the European Union,” said SNP Europe spokesperson, Stephen Gethins MP.
“It’s therefore hardly surprising that support for remaining in the EU has increased since the Brexit referendum in 2016.”
There was overwhelming evidence that leaving the EU would be bad for jobs, living standards and the economy, he argued. “Scotland has been ignored by Westminster at every turn.”
He added: “Scotland didn’t vote for Brexit – and we must not be dragged out of the EU against our will. If Westminster is unwilling to protect our interests then Scotland must find a way out of this mess ourselves.”
The Scottish Greens highlighted allegations about the lack of transparent funding of the leave campaign. “It’s no surprise that public opinion has turned against something brought about by outright lies fuelled by dark money,” said the party’s Europe spokesperson, Ross Greer MSP.
“Scotland’s voice has been comprehensively ignored at every stage of the process. I wouldn’t expect a Tory party so intent on national self-destruction to pay much attention to opinion across the UK shifting towards where it’s been in Scotland for some time,” he added.
“It’s clear we need an extension to Article 50 on leaving the EU for long enough to agree on revoking it entirely. At the same time, we really need to get this zombie government out of office.”
Scottish Labour said it was not surprised that people were concerned. “After two years of failed negotiations the Prime Minister still has no credible plan and has just suffered another humiliating defeat in the Commons,” said Brexit spokesperson, Neil Findlay MSP.
“That is why Labour is trying to bring some order to the Brexit chaos with a sensible alternative plan that would work for Scotland and the whole of the UK, and put jobs, workers’ rights, our economy and the environment first.”
Leave.eu, which campaigns to leave the EU, did not respond to a request to comment.
The analysis by Jim Chisholm
Graphics by Ally Tibbitt. This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.