Brexit. Three years since the UK left the European Union

Brexit. Three years since the UK left the European Union

Three years after the UK left the European Union, most Britons believe Brexit was a mistake, according to public opinion polls in the UK. Among the inhabitants of the United Kingdom, there is no conviction that this process has brought the effects promised by the supporters of withdrawal from the Community in the referendum campaign. For now, however, British politicians are reluctant to return to the polarizing issue of Brexit.

Tuesday marks the third anniversary of Britain’s formal withdrawal from the European Union, although there was a transition period under the old conditions for 11 months later. The decision to leave the EU was taken in a referendum held in June 2016 when against polls52% of voters voted in favor of such a solution and 48% were against it.

Brexit protestersTOLGA AKMEN/EPA/PAP

Looking at the polls of the last few months, there is no doubt that if the referendum were held now, the result would be the opposite, and the gap – this time in favor of staying in the EU – would be higher. UnHerd magazine research shows that of all the country’s 650 constituencies, only in one – Boston and Skegness in Lincolnshire – a majority of voters believe leaving the EU was the right decision. There was a draw in the next two. Across the country, those who agree with the statement “leaving the EU was a mistake” now outnumber those who disagree – 54 to 41 percent.

Views on Brexit and demographic change

Those who see Brexit as a mistake started to win the polls in late summer 2021, and opinion pollsters disagree over the reason for the shift. Most of the economic data shows that Brexit has rather exacerbated various problems, such as the pandemic COVID-19 or energy costs than made them shallower, but also blaming Brexit for all the problems of the UK is unjustified.

The Guardian published a study on Monday by three scientists – Joris Frese, Juho Harkonen and Simon Hix – who, however, indicate that a small proportion of voters have actually changed their minds about Brexit, and that the overall shift is more a result of demographics. The highest percentage of support for Brexit was among older voters, while the youngest were most strongly in favor of staying in the EU. Researchers point out that within 6.5 years of the referendum, a noticeable part of this oldest electorate died, while the right to vote was gained by entire generations of young people who would most likely vote for standing in the EU.

Boris Johnson, one of the main ‘architects’ of BrexitShutterstock

It can therefore be presumed that this natural exchange of the electorate will cause that, over time, there will be more and more opinions that leaving the EU was a mistake – unless Brexit starts to bring results. Contrary to populist promises from the referendum campaign, according to which everything will be better after leaving the EU, Brexit is rather a long-term project. If problems with bureaucracy in trade with the EU can be solved, a compromise can be found on the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is burdensome for London-Brussels relations, and at the same time – using actually greater flexibility in negotiations – agree on entry into the CPTPP trans-Pacific trade bloc or conclude a free trade agreement with India benefits may arise.

Lack of will among politicians

For now, however, British politicians have no desire to return to the polarizing issue of Brexit and there is no question of repeating the referendum. The fact that the ruling Conservative Party does not want this seems obvious, because it was it at the time Boris Johnson shifted to strongly pro-Brexit positions. But also the leader of the opposition Labor Party, Keir Starmer, has been declaring for some time that he does not want to reverse Brexit, but to make it work, which is a safer strategy in the context of the upcoming elections to the House of Commons.

Labor Party leader Keir StarmerPAP/EPA/TOLGA AKMEN

This does not mean that the issue of the UK being outside or in the EU is solved forever. The example of Scotland, where supporters of independence, after losing the referendum, which was supposed to be the only one in this generation, push for its repetition a few years later, is the best proof of this.

A hypothetical new referendum would probably not be a vote on an automatic return to the state before June 2016, when Great Britain had some special conditions within the European Union. Brussels might want to force London to free movement of people as well as entry the Schengen area and the adoption of the euro. In such a case, the results of the vote would be different than the current polls may indicate.

Main photo source: TOLGA AKMEN/EPA/PAP

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