Britons voted to leave the European Union in June 2016. Two and a half years later, the country is still trying to work out how that will actually work — indeed, it’s still not clear yet what Brexit actually means in practice.
And when you look at the way these four segments often contradict, you can see not only why British Prime Minister Theresa May is having such a hard time finding a deal that will please all parts of society — and why even a second referendum might prove difficult, too.
From the early days after the referendum, the idea that some of those who voted for Brexit now regret their vote was a familiar one. There were stories about a post-Brexit rush to Google “What is the E. U.?” and some major E.U. opponents, including millionaire Brexit-backer Arron Banks, have said they would go back and change their vote if they could.
Finding evidence of this “Bregret” sentiment in polls is a little complicated, but some claim to do so. In the original referendum, about 52 percent voted in favor of leaving the European Union, while 48 percent wanted to remain. One poll released a few months ago by research bodies NatCen and the UK in a Changing Europe found that 59 percent of voters now want to remain in the bloc, compared with 41 percent who did not.
In many cases, this may not be frustration with the idea of Brexit itself, but the way it has been carried out by May’s government (Banks’s own Bregret may also come from the resulting investigations of his role in the referendum).
But there is also a sense that, in the short term at least, Brexit has made people’s lives worse: A recent IPSOS/Mori poll found that 41 percent of the country thought the vote had decreased their standard of living, compared to 18 percent who thought it had made it better.
The Brexit die-hard
The flip side to the idea of Bregret is the pro-leave voter who has not changed his mind about the European Union — in fact, he has doubled down. Some even favor a “no deal” Brexit than a soft Brexit.
We’ll dub this person the Brexit die-hard.
You see this type of person in the British media often: people like the Conservative Parliament member Jacob Rees Mogg or the former Independence Party leader Nigel Farage. The hard-liners might be the people who have led protests against May’s deal to leave the European Union, arguing that she has taken too soft a stance in negotiations with Brussels (at one “Brexit betrayal” march this weekend, a protester carried a noose that he said was for the prime minister).
Despite the obviously chaotic nature of British politics since the 2016 referendum, many Brexit supporters still seem to think it was the right choice in the long term. IPSOS/Mori’s polling shows that although 55 percent of the country thinks that leaving the European Union will be bad for the British economy in the next five years, only 34 percent say the same of the next 10 to 20 years — and 45 percent say it will be a good thing.
Although Britain voted to leave the European Union, it did so by only a slim majority. Many in the country feel strongly attached to their identity as a part of Europe. Indeed, since June 2016, a number of anti-Brexit marches have been held in London, some drawing hundreds of thousands of people.
Some of these Europhile-leaning Britons have argued that the 2016 vote was unfairly influenced by dark money or Russian misinformation. Others now say they want to leave Britain themselves, as they don’t like what it’s turning into. But probably the idea that holds the most sway across this crowd is that there should be a second referendum on Britain’s deal to leave the European Union.
The idea of a “People’s Vote” on Brexit now that more details of the process are out has met with real criticism from many politicians, who argue that it would only further churn the already muddy waters and inevitably lead to calls for a third referendum.
But some politicians, such as Vince Cable of the smaller Liberal Democrats party, have voiced support. Polls suggest considerable backing for such a measure, and some surveys even show a small percentage in favor of another vote.
For other Britons, the overwhelming reaction to Brexit is simple: Please can we just get this over with?
After months and months of seemingly never-ending negotiations about complicated details such as a “backstop” for the Irish border (some polls show that a majority of the country still isn’t confident about what this is) and with no clear consensus in sight, these people believe that it’s best to just pull off the bandage and get on with life. However bad Brexit is, they reason, it can’t be worse than this.
One poll conducted by Deltapoll over the summer suggested that 60 percent of the country agreed with the statement: “I no longer care how or when we leave the E.U., I just want it over and done with.” Notably, many were in favor of staying in the European Union in 2016.
This sort of sentiment may ultimately be May’s savior. In Ipsos Mori’s most recent poll, less than a quarter of the respondents thought that the British prime minister could get a good deal with the European Union. However, half of the country said she shouldn’t resign if Parliament rejects her deal — a sign that for many, political chaos is more worrying than a bad Brexit.