Britons’ Growing Buyer’s Remorse for Brexit


Category:  Op/Ed

Via:  hallux  •  2 months ago  •  15 comments

By:   Matthew Goodwin - The Atlantic

Britons’ Growing Buyer’s Remorse for Brexit

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

The conventional wisdom after the two major populist revolts of 2016—the United Kingdom’s referendum vote to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president— was that few, if any , of their respective supporters would have a change of heart. Contrary to the classic understanding of populism as an ephemeral protest, this view   insisted , the votes for Brexit and for Trump   reflected   a profound and enduring clash over identity.

Six years later, the argument looks less convincing. In America’s recent   midterm elections , Trump Republicans clearly underperformed, and in Britain, public regret over Brexit—or “Bregret”—is emerging as a major theme in politics and national life. As the U.K.   is engulfed by a wave of   strikes   by ambulance workers, nurses, railway workers, and others that has been dubbed a new “ winter of discontent ,” a larger disaffection has come into view.

When Britons are asked whether they think the vote for Brexit—a slim 52–48 majority—was right or wrong, the share of those who say it was wrong has climbed to a record high of   56 percent , while the share that says it was the right decision has fallen below a third of those polled. Considering the relative stability of Brexit enthusiasm after the landslide Conservative election win in December 2019, when Boris Johnson triumphed with the promise to “get Brexit done,” the recent decline in approval for leaving Europe   is stark . Believing in Brexit has become a minority pursuit.

Ask voters how they think Brexit is being managed, and   about two-thirds   now say badly. Ask them how they think Brexit has gone, and only   one in five   says well; close to two-thirds say not well. And ask them how the reality of Brexit compares with their expectations of it, and   seven in 10   now say that it has gone either as badly as they expected or worse than they expected.   Je ne Bregrette rien ? Not so much.

This creeping sense of Bregret helps explain why the British have also become more supportive of what is still unsayable by political leaders at Westminster: that the country should consider rejoining the EU. Neither of Britain’s two major parties supports this, and neither is committed to offering what would be the country’s third referendum on European membership, after 1975 and 2016. But if you ask people today how they would vote at such a referendum,   an average   of 57 percent say they would vote to rejoin. In the past year alone, there has been   a 10-point swing   toward rejoining the EU.

What explains this change of heart? The first factor is the sheer pressure of the demographic shifts sweeping through Britain’s electorate. In much the same way that the 2016 result caught the establishment off guard, the divides submerged beneath the opinion surveys suggest that some big shocks to the status quo are coming once again.

The mood is changing not simply because some of Britain’s Leave voters have morphed into Rejoiners—the number of actual converts is modest. Fewer than   one in five   Brexiteers admit to buyer’s remorse. Far more significant is the fact that people who chose not to vote in the original referendum, and young people who were too young to vote in 2016 but are now flooding into the electorate, are heavily against Brexit.

Of the 18-to-24-year-olds of Generation Z, who came of age during the populist turmoil marked by the rise of Trump in the U.S. and Johnson in the U.K., as well as the prolonged and polarizing gridlock over Brexit in Parliament, no less than   79 percent   say they would vote to rejoin the EU. (This is a view shared by only 24 percent of the oldest Britons.) For these Zoomers,   only 2 percent   of whom plan to vote Tory at the next election, this opposition to Brexit is just one aspect of an emerging progressive identity, which also includes a strong emphasis on climate change and social justice, as well as support for immigration, greater diversity, and more assertive anti-racism.

Similarly to their Gen Z counterparts in Scotland,   73 percent   of whom back the call of the Scottish Nationalist first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to leave the U.K. and rejoin the EU, Zoomers elsewhere in the U.K. seem convinced that Brexit was a historic mistake. And according to   the latest YouGov polling , a majority of every age group under 65 in the U.K. now thinks this way.

Bregret is also being stoked by voters’ shifting assessments of its costs and benefits. The original vote for Brexit was powered by a belief that leaving the EU would enable Britain to reclaim sovereignty from Brussels, lower immigration, and, per the Leave campaign slogan, “Take back control” of the country’s borders and security. But since the referendum, voters have seen Brexit become enmeshed in a succession of crises. Even if Brexit was not their main cause, the blunt reality is that it has become the blameworthy backdrop to the post-pandemic economic malaise of low growth, rampant inflation, and cost-of-living misery.

Instead of paving the way for a dynamic high-growth, low-tax economy—in the most boosterish version promised by Leave’s promoters, Britain reborn as “ Davos-on-Thames ”—Brexit is now associated by many with the opposite: a  low-growth, high-tax economy . Worse, the country is laden with debt, its industry is stuck in a cycle of low productivity, and its borders are overwhelmed by unchecked immigration. Britons are about to witness the sharpest fall in living standards on record, and their economy is forecast to fall behind those of most major world powers.

Britain’s status as the “sick man of Europe” in the 1960s and ’70s was what originally helped persuade the country to join with Europe. If the U.K. continues to lag behind its competitors, this “benchmarking effect” of invidious comparison will only strengthen Bregret in the years ahead. That effect is already clear. Brexiteers will argue that quitting Europe was never really about the economy but about sovereignty and identity. This was certainly true in 2016—but in 2022, the economic downturn is undercutting support for their cause.

According to my colleague   Sir John Curtice , voters have not, in the main, become more positive about what they see as the main benefits of Brexit—such as Britain’s success in developing its own COVID-19-vaccine program, and its ability to control its own affairs and   respond decisively   to the Ukraine crisis—but they have become gloomier about what they see as its drawbacks. Contrary to their attitude a year ago, they have become more convinced that Brexit is damaging their wages, the national economy, and the National Health Service.

The Tory government’s disastrous experiment with “Trussonomics,” Liz Truss’s radical economic project during her   44-day tenure   as prime minister, has not helped. Although her neo-Thatcherite “Liberal Leaver” vision of Brexit Britain—boosting bonuses for bankers, deregulating financial services, slashing taxes for top earners, and liberalizing immigration from outside Europe—united Tory elites and their donor class, it did not appeal to most ordinary Brexit voters.

Had you asked these voters, in 2016, why they voted to leave the EU, few would have told you it was because they wanted to deregulate the financial sector, see net migration surge to   more than 500,000 a year , featherbed high earners, and have the government lose control of Britain’s borders (more than 44,000 migrants and asylum seekers   arrived   this year in small boats from France).

Few of the blue-collar, non-college-educated, and older voters who flocked to the Conservatives after 2016 want to realize the Davos class’s dream of a finance-led economic powerhouse centered on London. The growing gulf between how Conservative elites view Brexit and how the working-class voters they won away from the Labour Party in 2019 see Brexit is also stoking Bregret. Many of those voters have been disappointed by a Tory Party they see as showing scant regard for them. Since Johnson’s emphatic election victory three years ago, his party’s support among Brexit voters   has crashed   by some 30 points.

The loss of these formerly pro-Brexit voters creates a profound challenge for the Conservatives, who have completely remolded their party around one side of the Brexit divide while alienating much of the rest of the country. What began as a master class in how a center-right party can tap into a major political realignment has turned into a cautionary tale about how a governing party can alienate its own voters. The Tories’ mismanagement of Brexit and their hemorrhaging electoral support are setting the stage for a return of what the referendum in 2016 was designed to eliminate: national populism.

Johnson’s initial success was partly rooted in winning over three-quarters of the people who had previously backed Britain’s populist in chief and Trump ally, Nigel Farage. But today, the Conservative government’s failure to curb immigration, control Britain’s borders, and improve the lives of non-London-dwelling Brexiteers is creating space for another populist revolt in British politics.

In recent weeks, Reform, a party aligned with Farage, has been creeping up in the polls to 9 percent—a level of support for a rival third party that would guarantee the Tories lose the next general election. Many more 2019 Tory voters are telling pollsters that they don’t know whom to support or prefer “none of the above”—this leaves them once again susceptible to a plausible demagogue like Farage.

Whether they identified with the right or the left, many Britons could at least agree that Brexit’s seeming resolution had killed off populism. But as disillusion grows with what getting Brexit done has meant, the assumption that Britain’s populist spasm has passed no longer looks so certain.

[ Matthew Goodwin , a politics professor at the University of Kent, is the author of  National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy .]


jrDiscussion - desc
Junior Principal
1  seeder  Hallux    2 months ago

Populism like all political waves have the same characteristic and it matters not if they come from the right or the left, either will leave you soaked to the bone and unable to breathe. Both sides enter the fray with elitists damning the elite … alas for the populace it’s the only thing they are good at.

Split Personality
Professor Principal
2  Split Personality    2 months ago

If they rejoin the EU it should be permanent. 

By now they are too far down the rabbit hole to make much difference if they stay or go.

It will take decades to rebalance this mess.

Junior Principal
2.1  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Split Personality @2    2 months ago
It will take decades to rebalance this mess.

At a bare minimum.

Professor Principal
3  Kavika     2 months ago

United Kingdom, a sinking island in a sea of debt.

Junior Principal
3.1  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Kavika @3    2 months ago

They could take a play from Putin's book and claim America is theirs. Getting Tucker onside should be easy enough.

Professor Principal
3.1.1  Kavika   replied to  Hallux @3.1    2 months ago

LOL, ah yes General Nonsense Tucker as our own Benedict Arnold.

Professor Quiet
4  bbl-1    2 months ago

Brexit had Russian fingerprints all over it.

Professor Principal
4.1  Texan1211  replied to  bbl-1 @4    2 months ago



Keep it on the downlow.

Junior Principal
4.1.1  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1    2 months ago

Helsinki/Trump was 2018, Brexit was 2016. Talk shit somewhere else ... thanx!

Professor Principal
4.1.2  Texan1211  replied to  Hallux @4.1.1    2 months ago

I figured since folks were talking shit already with yet more Russia conspiracy theories, why not join the fun?

Junior Principal
4.1.3  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Texan1211 @4.1.2    2 months ago

Oh I know ... there ain't nothin' in Putin's history to ever think he acts nefariously.

Professor Principal
4.1.4  Texan1211  replied to  Hallux @4.1.3    2 months ago
Oh I know ... there ain't nothin' in Putin's history to ever think he acts nefariously.

Ah, sarcasm!

You may want to label it as such for a few here, they'll think you are serious!

Thrawn 31
Professor Guide
5  Thrawn 31    2 months ago

New it was always foolish. The UK simply doesn’t have the ability to punch above its weight like it needs to to go it alone in the modern world. Very few nations have the geographic size, population, resources, and industry to be able to do their thing and expect everyone to go along to get along. 

Greg Jones
Professor Guide
6  Greg Jones    2 months ago

It was doing OK until the EU came along. Giving up its sovereignty was a bad idea.

Split Personality
Professor Principal
6.1  Split Personality  replied to  Greg Jones @6    one month ago
It was doing OK until the EU came along.

No, it really wasn't or they would not have joined.

Giving up its sovereignty was a bad idea.

This is a huge misconception.

Here is a great explanation.

Daryl Taylor
Studied Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London (Graduated1985) 2y

This isn’t hard to understand.

The European Council (representing the governments of every Member State) decides the subject areas where the Community has power to act on behalf of all of the Member States collectively. Nothing compels any individual Member State to authorise the Community in this way, but they do so because they see benefits from this sharing of powers.

The Community exercises this authority by setting rules that must again be approved by representatives of Member State governments (on the Council) and also by representatives of EU citizens (in the European Parliament). Some Council decisions can nowadays be taken by a qualified majority, but even these decisions concern subject areas where Member State governments already agreed to such a procedure.

The rules (i.e. Regulations and Directives) are mainly implemented and enforced by public authorities in the Member States. The EU also has a separate court that clarifies and harmonises interpretations of those rules to make sure that they are not applied differently in various Member States.

At no point in this arrangement can we say that the Community has lawfully exercised a power that a Member State did not agree to.

There is no challenge to sovereignty in a system that merely implements agreements that have been freely entered into. That would be like expressing outrage in a shop when you are asked to pay for the product that you want to buy at the price that you agreed.

Does the European Union challenge the sovereignty of its members? - Quora

The gist of this, is that joining the European Union is no different than joining NATO

or NAFTA, its just a treaty.


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