Profound divisions among MPs over Brexit, survey reveals

  • Leavers united in what they want from negotiations, Remainers more divided
  • Differences between MPs and public on what would respect the referendum outcome
  • Only minority support for a second referendum – and reduced support for further referenda in general
  • Clear majority of MPs expected Remain to win

There are significant differences between Leave and Remain MPs in what they want out of the negotiations as Britain leaves the EU polling conducted for The UK in a Changing Europe and The Mile End Institute, Queen Mary University of London has found.

Of Leave MPs, 72% prioritise controlling immigration or not paying into the EU budget over retaining access to the single market. MPs who voted to Remain in the EU, however, are more divided, with under half prioritising access to the single market over either immigration control or paying into the EU budget, with the rest taking a variety of different positions.

UK in a Changing Europe director Professor Anand Menon said: “Leavers want to control immigration at all costs. Remainers are much more divided over what to prioritise – which may well make them less able to shape the debate.”

What MPs see as honouring the referendum result

A minority of MPs believe that the referendum result would not be honoured if Britain remained in the single market (just 26% think this would not honour the result) or continued to pay into the EU budget (35%). The latter contrasts with polling by Lord Ashcroft (in August) which found 81% of the public believed continuing to pay into the EU budget would not be compatible with leaving the EU.

MPs see controlling immigration from the EU as key – with 58% viewing it as a condition for respecting the referendum result. However, when it comes to EU nationals already living and working in the UK, MPs say that allowing them to stay is compatible with the referendum result – only 5% say this is incompatible with leaving the EU.

MPs are very divided on how they see the post-Brexit world

  • Three in ten (29%) Leavers think it very or fairly likely the EU will thrive now the UK has voted to leave, whereas this view is held by two-thirds (66%) of Remainers
  • Leavers are very optimistic that the UK will be able to quickly sign trade deals with major powers such as China (all MPs who voted to leave interviewed were very or fairly optimistic), compared to just 24% of Remainers
  • The vast majority of Leavers (86%) think the deals the UK will achieve will more than compensate for any loss of trade with the EU, whereas 71% of Remainers think they will be not make up for this loss
  • Leavers are much more positive about the state of the British economy in the future:  55% of Leavers think in a year’s time, the general economic condition of the country will have improved, compared to 8% of Remainers. And 97% of Leavers think the economy will have improved in ten years’ time, compared to just 36% of Remainers.

Professor Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London argued: “This shows how deeply Brexit has divided parliamentary opinion across a range of issues. The divide is not just between those who see the glass half full or half empty; it’s a real divide between panglossians and pessimists.”

Limited support for a second referendum

Almost half of MPs (49%) believe parliament should have a vote on the final deal with the EU, as the Prime Minister has promised – although majorities of Leavers and Conservative MPs do not think this is necessary. But there is little appetite for a further referendum: just 13% of MPs wanted a second referendum to approve or reject any deal with the EU.

And the experience of the referendum has not led MPs to favour more referenda. Just 3% say they are now more in favour of referenda than before, while 49% are less so, including 70% of Labour MPs.

Professor Philip Cowley of Queen Mary University of London said: “Although MPs want parliament to influence the Brexit process, they are not keen on rerunning the referendum – and their experience has clearly not made them more positive about participatory democracy in general.”

Cameron’s renegotiation cost support

When MP’s were polled in late 2015, more than two-thirds of Conservative MPs said they were waiting for the Prime Minister’s EU renegotiation before deciding how to vote. The latest poll found more than half of Leaver MPs say they became more favourable to Leave following the renegotiation.

Referendum result took MPs by surprise

The polling also found MPs overwhelmingly expected Remain to win and MPs claim to have been taken by surprise by the referendum result. Under a quarter (22%) thought the result would be a Leave victory; 8% thought it was too close to call – whilst 69% expected Remain to win. Click here for the detailed findings from the MPs survey.

Disclaimer:
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

View all analyses

Sign up to our newsletter





View our latest newsletter