Amidst the intense interest in the Autumn Statement much other news, political and otherwise, has been squeezed out of the headlines. Fatigue too plays a large part in how close an eye we keep on things. We know catching covid can be serious and unpleasant but we are all fed up with talking about it, for example. Smoking is bad for us, we all know that, but we do not need to be nagged about it. Brexit comes at the top of the pile when it comes to the fatigue factor. No other issue polarises opinion and divides debate so much as Brexit. Yet it is the political issue that will not go away but dares not speak its name.
This is not a piece about the rights and wrongs of Brexit. It is not a comment on the campaign and it’s after effects. Nor is it an examination of the effects of Brexit on the economy since we formally left the European Union. This piece makes no judgement on the merits or otherwise of Brexit. This piece is solely about noting what seems to have become a consistent and established trend in British national opinion on whether Brexit was a good idea.
The latest polling, by the YouGov tracker on the subject, is as stark as it is clear. In hindsight, YouGov asks, do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the European Union? The answer:
Right to Leave: 32% (-3)
Wrong to Leave: 56% (+4)
Via @YouGov, 9-10 Nov. Changes w/ 1-2 Nov.
This result records the largest ever, so far, view that Britain was wrong to vote to leave the European Union.
Who cares you might say. We have done it and no-one is going to re-open the issue. Forget it. Move on. This trend though is significant and it’s impact on politics and elections for years to come is profound.
For a start, if this opinion trend becomes settled and established, Brexit becomes not an electoral asset for its supporters but a great ball and chain around the political necks of its champions. To be associated with Brexit is to now be in danger of being associated with a political mistake not a popular vote winning policy. Yet the increasing evidence the polling provides is simply undiscussable at Westminster. A former Cabinet Minister and good friend replied when I asked what is the plan to respond to the polling on Brexit, “why are you attacking me in this remainiac way?” That’s fine in gentle conversation between friends but Conservative strategists need to work out a persuasive and compelling response swiftly.
Secondly it opens up interesting political ground for Labour. If – if – to some degree turning Britain into a little less of a Brexity place is a vote winner then we can see another change in the nature of Britain’s relationship coming much sooner than we might think. For Labour there are two potential upsides here. One is that they could win votes by restoring some degree of formal relationship between Britain and the EU. The second boon for them is that simply by discussing it, let alone actually doing it, it will drive huge splits into a Conservative Party desperate to talk about anything else. For Labour the politics are clear and must be tempting. Neither of these thoughts would have been credible only a little while ago.
Economic cycles come and go. Brexit and the nature of our relationship with Europe however is set to continue to dominate our politics for the foreseeable future, no matter how weary we maybe of discussing the subject Brexit is far from a settled issue.