Five years on from the EU Referendum, the latest poll by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds the British public still fiercely split on Brexit—but a small portion of those who voted Remain in 2016 now think leaving the EU was the right decision.
Whether leaving the EU was the right choice for the country remains a contentious issue. A plurality (45%) thinks the UK public made the right decision in deciding to leave the EU in 2016, but an extremely close 44% of respondents think it was the wrong decision. A further 12% don’t know.
There is a clear political divide on the matter, with 73% of 2019 Conservative voters considering Brexit the right decision, compared to only 25% of 2019 Labour voters.
Notably, 13% of those who voted to remain a member of the EU say that the UK public made the right decision in leaving the EU in 2016. Additionally, more Leave-voters feel that the public made the right decision (86%) than Remain-voters feel the public made the wrong decision (76%). There is also a higher degree of uncertainty among Remain-voters: where only 5% of Leave-voters are unsure if the right decision was made, this proportion rises to 11% of those who voted Remain.
These findings suggest that the past five years have seen some softening in views among so-called Remainers, perhaps through the UK Government’s ongoing efforts to promote the virtues of Brexit, or in response to evolving perceptions of the benefits of British independence. Indeed, our previous research reveals that many Britons think being outside the EU has helped the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout and aided the procurement of the UK-Australia trade deal. Interestingly, however, over the past six months, the proportion who think the British public made the right decision in leaving the EU has remained fairly stable, whilst the proportion of those who think the public made the wrong decision has actually increased slightly from 37% in February.
There is greater consensus among Britons regarding their own personal decision: of those respondents eligible to vote in the 2016 EU Referendum, the vast majority (82%) do not regret the way they voted. Only 11% say they do regret the way they voted, and 7% are unsure.
When we compare these responses to how people voted in the EU Referendum, interesting patterns emerge. Those who voted Leave (14%) are slightly more likely than those who voted Remain (8%) to say they now regret the way they voted. Likewise, whereas 84% of Leave-voters don’t regret their choice, this proportion rises to 88% among Remain-voters.
This discrepancy in findings—that Remain-voters are altogether less likely to regret their vote, yet a notable portion of them now think the UK public made the right decision in deciding to leave the EU—may point to subjective interpretations of the concept of regret; some respondents may respect the way they voted in the EU Referendum, on the grounds that it was an accurate reflection of their feelings and knowledge at the time, but nevertheless have subsequently adopted a different overall view of Brexit and its effects on the country. Furthermore, since it was ultimately Leave-voters who held the decisive power in determining the vote’s outcome, regret would be genuinely meaningful for them, whereas Remain-voters would see nothing change if they went back in time and changed their vote.
Overall, Brexit continues to divide the British public, with respondents split almost evenly on whether the country made the right or wrong decision in deciding to leave the EU in 2016. Significantly, though Leavers are marginally more likely to regret how they voted, some Remainers appear to have had a change of heart, and now regard Brexit as the right choice for the UK.