As the UK’s first major trade pact since leaving the EU, the free trade deal with Australia signed last week is of crucial political importance for post-Brexit Britain. The deal is not without controversy, however, as British farmers and industry bodies have expressed concern over the removal of tariffs on beef and lamb imported from Australia, fuelled by worries about differences in farming practices in both countries.
In the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we asked Britons about their opinion on the trade deal and on the impact they anticipate it will have on the British farming industry.
Overall, we find that two thirds (66%) of the British public are somewhat or very aware of the trade deal recently signed by the UK and Australia. 28% are not aware at all, and 7% say they don’t know. Awareness of the trade deal increases with age: whereas 47% of 18-to-24-year-olds are aware of the trade deal, 81% of those aged 55 to 64 and 87% of those aged 65 and above are aware.
Among those who are aware of the deal, we observe significant levels of support. 64% of respondents say they support the trade deal recently signed by the UK and Australia, while only 10% oppose. 21% neither support nor oppose the deal.
Despite such high levels of aggregate support, our research highlights important differences in attitudes to the trade deal depending on Britons’ political preferences. Whereas 83% of 2019 Conservative voters support the deal, a significantly lower proportion of 47% of 2019 Labour voters do.
These results do not necessarily indicate a rejection of the trade deal by 2019 Labour voters, however. In fact, while 19% of this group do actively oppose the trade deal, 27% say they neither support nor oppose it, suggesting that a relatively large proportion of 2019 Labour voters hold a neutral view. Among 2019 Conservative voters, opposition to the trade deal is minimal, at 2%.
Despite their generally high levels of support, respondents who are aware of the trade deal are split on what its likely impact will be on British farmers. As such, a plurality of 36% of respondents think the trade deal will negatively affect British farmers. The proportion of respondents adopting this view rises to 49% of 2019 Labour voters, suggesting that fears over adverse effects the trade deal might have on British farmers could be a reason contributing to lower levels of support for the trade deal among 2019 Labour voters overall.
A further 23% of respondents overall—including 35% of 2019 Conservative voters and 9% of Labour voters—instead think the UK-Australia trade will not affect British farmers. Interestingly, at 16% of 2019 Conservative and 17% of 2019 Labour supporters, equal proportions of both groups of voters think the trade deal will positively affect British farmers.
At the same time, a significant quarter (26%) of respondents—including 25% of both 2019 Conservative and 2019 Labour voters—say they don’t know whether the trade deal will affect British farmers.
Among Britons who are aware of the UK-Australia trade deal, a majority (57%) believes it would not have been possible to agree this trade deal with Australia if Brexit had not happened—including 63% of those who think deciding to leave the EU was the right decision, as well as 53% of those who think deciding to leave the EU was the wrong decision. 23% conclude this deal would have been possible even without Brexit, and 21% don’t know.
These results suggest that increased trade opportunities outside the EU are perceived as a positive result of Brexit by significant proportions of both pro-leave and pro-remain voters. In fact, this hypothesis is further supported by our finding that roughly a third (31%) of Britons view more trade opportunities with non-EU markets as the biggest benefit the UK, its business and residents will experience as a result of having left the EU.
When it comes to the British public’s attitudes towards the priorities the UK Government should adopt with regards to its agricultural policy, we observe important levels of convergence across partisan lines.
Two thirds (65%) of the public—including 67% of both 2019 Conservative and Labour voters—think the UK Government should prioritise protecting the British farming industry from foreign competition over gaining access to cheaper farming products from other countries. By contrast, only 21% of respondents overall—including 23% of 2019 Conservative voters and 20% of 2019 Labour voters—think the Government should prioritise gaining access to cheaper farming products from other countries. 14% of respondents say they don’t know.