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One year after Brexit, Britain is destabilized – EURACTIV.com

Although Brexit has been a reality for over a year and most opposition politicians no longer want to talk about it, it is still not well accepted by British public opinion.

This is the conclusion drawn from data presented on Tuesday 22 February at a conference organized by the academic think tank Britain in a Changing Europe. It thus appears that the polarization generated by Brexit has persisted in many political debates, which are nevertheless different in nature.

The report published on Tuesday (February 22nd) by the think tank shows that the Brexit-related divide has persisted since the 2016 referendum, with 62% of voters still identifying as pro or anti-Brexit supporters.

The Brexit divide also shapes voters’ views of other issues. According to the think tank, Brexit supporters and Remain supporters (anti-Brexit) have very different views on the economy, but similar views on immigration.

“Brexit-related identities are also strongly entrenched”according to the report. “In October 2021, 60% of pro-Brexit and 67% of anti-Brexit said their identity was very or extremely important to them. »

“Clear majorities of people who campaigned for Brexit still feel a strong attachment to their political identity”.

When asked whether Brexit has been good for democracy and the UK’s influence in the world, pros and anti-Brexit still disagree that leaving the EU was a good thing for the UK.

Professor John Curtice, BBC election pollster and member of Britain in a Changing Europe, pointed out that more negative opinions about the consequences of Brexit were recorded after the summer of 2021, when food and fuel shortages took hold. resulted in long queues at petrol stations and empty shelves in supermarkets.

Furthermore, polls suggest that while in the first half of 2021 most people were in favor of Brexit, the British were nevertheless in favor of a return to the EU at 52% against 48% in the last six or seven months.

“The Brexit issue continues to shape party support to a very large extent”says Curtice.

The number of support for the Labor party among the anti-Brexit is now equivalent to the support of the pro-Brexit within the Conservative party. Since the election, support for the Conservatives has fallen the most among pro-Brexit voters.

Reactions to Brexit are also noticeable in opinions of Scottish independence. Thus, anti-Brexit supporters are more likely to support Scottish independence and a united Ireland

“It is an insult to anyone in Northern Ireland with a British identity that there is an Irish Sea border”said Alibhe Rea, correspondent for the New Statesman.

“Brexit has brought to light and heightened feelings of anxiety that already existed, resulting in a collapse of support for the major unionist parties”she added.

One of the last levers Mr Johnson can pull to bolster support from his right flank is to trigger Article 16. This is a saving clause in the Northern Ireland Protocol that allows either party to take unilateral action “strictly necessary” if the application of the protocol “results in serious economic, societal or environmental hardship likely to persist, or a diversion of trade flows”.

Whereas previous British governments had assumed a role of neutral arbiter in Northern Ireland, the Johnson government took a more self-serving stance after Brexit, becoming more openly pro-unionist, i.e. in favor of maintaining of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.

It is possible that the government will trigger Article 16 to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol for the tactical reason of keeping the Unionists on its side.

“There is currently a problem with Irish and British relations. On the Irish side, there is some misunderstanding about Brexit”said Jon Tonge, professor of politics at the University of Liverpool.

However, opposition parties in England are so far not trying to capitalize on public skepticism about Brexit. Still stunned by the scale of their defeat in the 2019 election, Labor and the Liberal Democrats said little about Brexit or linked government policy failures and economic hardship to the UK’s status outside the EU .

By contrast, the Tories have successfully linked Brexit to the government’s success in launching its mass vaccination program faster than the EU, one of the few points in the pandemic that the government of Boris Johnson is widely credited, and whom Mr Curtice called a “brilliant communication operation”.

“For now at least, it is far from clear that the 2016 referendum has settled the debate as far as public opinion is concerned”said Mr Curtice, who pointed out that those who did not vote in the 2016 referendum support EU membership by a majority of two to one.

Six years, three prime ministers and two elections later, the Brexit debate is still not over.

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