Public prefer single market membership to no Brexit deal

The public would rather remain in the single market than see the UK face ‘no deal’, a representative ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ of voters has found [1]. The findings follow speculation that the UK is heading towards a ‘no deal’ Brexit [2]. However, an impartial process found that while voters want Theresa May to seek a bespoke trade and customs deal, if that is not possible voters believe the UK should remain in the single market.

The 50-strong Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit – which comprised more Leave backers than Remainers – voted on Brexit earlier this month [3], in a process organised by leading universities and civil society organisations. [4]

If no bespoke trade deal is available, 31 members supported options whereby the UK would stay in the single market, against 19 members who would favour no deal. In the same scenario, members supported staying in the customs union by 37 votes to 13.

The findings are highlighted in a new report on the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit, released today (25 October) [5].

The Assembly was selected with support from polling company ICM [6] as part of an initiative backed by leading campaigners on all sides [7] – from Leave’s Bernard Jenkin and John Mills to Remain’s Nicky Morgan and Chuka Umunna.

Dr Alan Renwick, the Director of the Citizens’ Assembly project, said: “While the past two weeks have seen increasing talk of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, when voters heard the arguments and facts on all sides they viewed remaining in the single market and the customs union as preferable to simply walking away without a deal.

“By a clear margin, the representative group of citizens felt that, on balance, keeping these ties would be better for the country.

“I hope politicians from across the spectrum will reflect on the Citizens’ Assembly’s conclusions. Members heard from a wide array of experts and thought long and hard before reaching their conclusions. This is the first opportunity to hear in detail what the public really want as the UK departs from the EU.”

[1] The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit brought together a representative group of 50 UK voters with different viewpoints to learn about the issues of trade and immigration, to deliberate with each other and come to recommendations on the form Brexit should take. The Assembly met over two weekends: 8–10 September and 29 September to 1 October 2017. Citizens’ Assemblies have been increasingly used across Europe and North America to formulate proposals on key policy and constitutional issues often associated with referendums. Ireland’s Constitutional Convention and Citizens’ Assembly have recently led to the referendum agreeing to legalisation of same-sex marriage and an upcoming referendum on access to abortion.

[2] BBC: Emily Thornberry predicts no deal with the EU

[3] During the first weekend, Assembly members heard from various academic experts with differing views on trade and immigration post-Brexit. They also received a range of balanced briefing papers which had been vetted by the project’s Advisory Committee (see [6] below). The presentations and briefing papers can be found on the project website. Assembly Members voted four times, ranking their preferences for the UK’s policy on trade with the EU, trade with countries outside the EU, migration, and the complete deal on trade and immigration.

In the first vote, a limited trade deal won the largest number of votes, though once other preferences were taken into account a more comprehensive trade deal found the greatest support. As this may not prove achievable the votes showed what would happen if it is taken off the table. In this case the preferred option is a limited deal. But if no deal is available members split 31 to 19 in favour of staying in the Single Market.

In the second vote, members strongly favoured a deal which would allow the UK to leave the Customs Union and strike its own international trade deals, but maintain frictionless borders (particularly between Northern Ireland and the Republic). If this proves unattainable, members strongly supported staying in the Customs Union over doing no deal, by 37 votes to 13.

In the third vote, members chose between five options for post-Brexit migration policy. On first preferences, a majority of members (26 out of 50) wanted the UK to maintain free movement of labour but make full use of controls so that migrants who are unable to support themselves financially cannot abuse the system.

In the final vote, members reiterated their earlier preferences for a bespoke trade deal and an arrangement allowing EU citizens favourable access to the UK. If no deal is available, 38 members supported options whereby the UK would stay in the Single Market, against 12 members who would favour no deal.

[4] The research team is led by the Constitution Unit at University College London. Other participating organisations are the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster, the University of Southampton, Involve, and the Electoral Reform Society. The project is part of The UK in a Changing Europe, based at King’s College London, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

[5] Summary report

[6] The members of the Assembly were randomly selected to reflect the composition of the UK electorate in terms of age, sex, ethnicity, social class, where they live and how they voted in the Brexit referendum. Full details are available in the report.

[7]  A full list of endorsers, with quotations, can be found on the project website. The Assembly design, briefing materials and the selection of experts were reviewed by an Advisory Board that included both Leave and Remain supporters, as well as experts in the presentation of neutral information on Brexit-related matters.

You can read the full report here.

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.

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