Whilst the UK is on course to leave the European Union in March next year, it is still unclear what exactly the terms of our exit will be. Theresa May has settled on the so-called ‘Chequers plan’ which proposes that the UK and EU “maintain a common rulebook for all goods”, whilst allowing the UK to reach separate trade deals with other nations. However, many of her Brexit supporting critics view the Chequers deal as a compromise too far, favouring instead something similar to the free trade deal that Canada has with the EU, or indeed, a “no deal” option, which would see the UK trading with the EU on WTO terms (i.e. with standard tariffs applied).
Meanwhile, critics on the remain side of the debate tend to favour a closer relationship. The ‘Norway model’ is often cited as framework to imitate, or for many, simply remaining in the EU on our current terms, either by holding a second referendum, or by overturning the implementation of Article 50 in parliament.
But which option would the public prefer? Ahead of the Labour party conference, HuffPost UK commissioned BMG to add some insight. We polled more than 1,000 Britons aged 18+, and asked them which, of 5 options, they would prefer when thinking about Britain’s future relationship with the European Union.
Polling questions like this can be quite tricky to conduct, particularly as trade deals are, in their nature, complex and laden with detail, so establishing a succinct and neutral description of each option took some consideration. Our eventual definitions, most of which were based on descriptions compiled by fact-checking website Full Fact, are provided in the table below.
|Shorthand Description||Description provided to respondents|
|Chequers plan||Theresa May’s Chequers plan, the UK will share customs arrangements with the EU, immigration rules will be limited to the same as outside the EU, the UK will be free to strike its own trade deals with other countries.|
|No-deal||Leaving the EU with no deal, and moving to World Trade Organisation rules, the UK will be free to strike its own trade deals with other countries.|
|Canada-style deal||A Canada-style trade deal, with much less EU immigration and mostly free trade on goods, but restrictions applied for services and trading rules, the UK will be free to strike its own trade deals with other countries.|
|Norway-style deal||A Norway-style deal, that means the UK accepts EU law and trade rules and allows unrestricted EU migration, but no tariffs are applied for goods or services and the UK can strike its own trade deals with some other countries.|
|Remaining in the EU||Staying in the EU under the current terms, the UK will not be free to strike its own trade deals with other countries.|
A Canada-Style deal is the most popular option
Just one in nine (11%) say their preferred option would be Theresa May’s Chequers plan, half the proportion that backed a Canada Style deal (22%), the most popular of all the options polled.
A Norway style deal also proved unpopular, the choice of just 11% of respondents. 19% backed leaving the EU without a deal and moving onto WTO terms, and 16% say they would prefer to stay in the EU on the current terms (21% said don’t know).
One might view the fact that only 16% selected remaining in the EU on our current terms as a headline in itself. However, readers should be cautious when interpreting this figure. We certainly cannot conclude that only 16% of voters would now back remaining in the EU in an in-out scenario. This is not the question that was put to respondents of this poll.
In fact BMG polling has actually shown a narrow lead for remaining in the EU over recent months, with little evidence that many voters on either side of the debate have changed their mind since 2016.
To illustrate why it is inappropriate to conclude that only 16% of people want to remain in the EU from this result, we hypothesise below.
While a Remain voter may prefer the Norway option over all others, including remaining in the EU under current terms, they may view Norway as unrealistic in the present circumstances, so feel that their only option is to select something like Chequers or Canada. Moreover, being asked the question may itself imply that Brexit is already going ahead, so many Remainers may choose what they see as being ‘the best of a bad lot’ (in their view) i.e. Norway or Canada instead of remaining in the EU.
Indeed, while a Canada-style deal tops the list, the public remain split on the issue with no one option winning the support of more than a quarter of those polled. Almost as many Brits say they are unsure (21%) as those who support a Canada-style option.
The figures are unsurprising when you examine them by how people voted in the EU Referendum. Among Leave voters, most select leaving the EU with no deal on WTO terms as their preferred option. That said, this was only the choice of 39% of Leave voters, and more than one quarter (27%) said they would opt for a Canada-style deal.
Although remaining in the EU is the favourite for Remain voters, with a plurality of 32% selecting it, it is worth noting that Remain voters appear to be more split than Leavers, with fewer selecting staying in the EU on current terms as their preferred option than Leave voters backing No deal and WTO terms.
Interestingly, a Canada style deal is more popular for Remain voters (25%) than a Norway style deal (18%), despite it constituting a more distant relationship between the UK and the EU.
It is also worth noting that to conclude that the substance of the Chequers deal is actually unpopular, could be a little overzealous. It may well be that, rather than disagreeing with the substance of the proposal, Chequers is simply damaged by its association with the Prime minister and/or the Government. As BMG polling shows, Theresa May has been recording record lows in public satisfactionfor some time.
While Remain and Leave voters differ substantially in their preferred Brexit option listed, one similarity is that very few select the Chequers deal as their preferred plan; just 15% and 12% of Leave and Remain voters respectively.
Is a Canada-style deal a more ‘uniting’ compromise?
Not only is a Canadian-style arrangement the most popular, a closer examination of polling results shows that the option attracts a fairly balanced level of support from Leave and Remain voters. To use a Venn diagram analogy, the Canada deal is the option where the largest overlap between Leave and Remain voters arises. Of those that support a Canada-style deal, some 60% voted Leave and 36% voted Remain.
This contrasts with the Norway-style deal where 80% who preferred it voted to remain, and the option to stay in the EU, which comprised 99% of Remain voters. Of those who selected No-deal and to move onto WTO arrangements, 87% voted Leave.
In light of these results it may well be that Canada is the better compromise, but the reality is that polling on issues like these, i.e. topics that are complex and not well understood by the general public, can only really present a ‘rough’ and ‘shallow’ picture of public opinion.
Respondents were also asked about their Brexit preference in terms of the possible consequences for a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK should no deal be struck. Respondents were presented with two options and asked to select which scenario they would prefer.
42% said they would rather that there was no deal struck between the UK and the EU, if it meant that a customs border would be imposed in the Irish Sea, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Just 26% said they would rather a deal between the UK and EU be struck, even if it meant a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. A third of respondents (32%) said they were unsure.
Interestingly, more remain voters opted for no deal scenario if it meant avoiding a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (35%) than said that they backed a deal (31%) if it meant a border was erected.
Methodology, fieldwork dates, and a full breakdown of these results can be found here.
For a more detailed breakdown of results from this poll, or any other results from our polling series, please get in touch by email or phone.
0121 333 6006
Dr Michael Turner – Head of Polling
Robert Struthers – Senior Research Executive