Brexit – what, exactly, did people vote for?

4 November 2016 | In the news

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

A referendum focuses on a single question.  There is just the question.  Unlike a general election, there is no party, manifesto or programme.  This is even more true of Brexit, where there was a lack of consistency of opinion or a single ‘message’ from either the stay or leave camp.

The truth is that we simply don’t know which of the many issues prompted people to vote the way they did.  Some may have been motivated by concerns over immigration, but others by the lack of EU transparency and ridiculous bureaucracy, or the amount of financial contribution we were making to the EU or issues around sovereignty.  And for those who did vote to leave, what did they actually mean? More control on immigration whilst staying in the single market (as intimated by Boris), or a wholesale withdrawal?  And were some voters just voting against the London-centric political establishment continuing to ignore their voices while telling them what was best for them, rather than focusing exclusively on the question on the ballot paper?

The government clearly needs to respect the results of the referendum (52% voted to leave), but – and this is a fine political line – acknowledge that 48% wanted to stay, and bring these people on board.

In August, YouGov conducted a poll that actually tried to define what kind of Brexit people wanted, and the results are fascinating. First, people are definite that Brexit means Brexit – 69% think that the government should follow the result of the referendum.  But the poll suggests that only 10% of people support a ‘hard’ Brexit, and 52% felt that allowing EU citizens the right to live and work in the UK was acceptable.

The report sums up by saying that ‘a limited free trade deal with the EU without any financial contribution or freedom of movement is people’s preferred choice for Brexit’.

Public opinion will continue to develop as the implications of the various options become clearer – but this survey is an initial snapshot of the thinking behind the voting.