EU Referendum: two years on

25 Jun 2018


Saturday 23 June marked the two-year anniversary of the UK's referendum on EU membership. The campaign was marked by dispute and division, with unpredictability being a common thread throughout the weeks preceding the vote as polls jumped between small leads for both Remain and Leave.


However, months of campaigning and decades of debate on the issue ultimately culminated in a 52%-48% victory for leaving the EU. With that came uncertainty. What remaining in the EU entailed for the country was clear - we had, after all, been a member of the union for forty years. However, in voting to depart from the organization, the UK set in motion its descent into uncharted territory.


With two years having now passed, how much more do we know about Brexit and to what extent (if at all) has public opinion changed on this consequential issue?


On 21 June a poll was released by Survation (who were highly accurate in predicting the 2017 election) showing that respondents supported, by a margin of nearly 2-1, 'a referendum on accepting or rejecting the final Brexit deal after negotiations are complete'. However, results from other polls on the prospect of another referendum show that small changes in the wording of questions can drastically alter results. A recent YouGov poll asking whether there should be a referendum to accept the terms of the Brexit negotiations showed that respondents opposed a referendum by a margin of 45-38.  Therefore, it can be hard to extrapolate what the public view is on this issue.


However, on the issue that was originally on the ballot two years ago (leave vs. remain) the country remains strongly divided. 45% of YouGov respondents saying Britain was wrong to leave the EU, compared to 44% who believed the opposite. Nevertheless, this same poll showed that only 13% believed the government should halt Brexit altogether, perhaps showing why both major parties are still supporting our departure from the union.


So, with opinion polling presenting a muddled picture of public opinion and ultimately suggesting that the country remains as divided as it was two years ago, do we know any more about Brexit itself? Or even what our future outside the EU will entail?


We now know that Britain will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019, two years after the UK triggered Article 50. Moreover, we know that Britain will then enter a transition period until 31 December 2020, during which time the UK will remain signed up to EU laws but won't have decision-making power over new ones.


We also know that it is the Government's intent to leave the single market. This would mean the UK would no longer have to accept the 'four freedoms': freedom of movement of goods, labour, capital and services. Then, on top of this, the Government also wants to leave the customs union, which could lead to increased border checks and the cost of business rising if the UK loses tariff-free access to the single market - which is likely if Britain restricts freedom of movement.


However, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding Brexit. The Government lacks a parliamentary majority and therefore an early election (which could lead to a Labour government) is a distinct possibility. The Government's precarious position in Parliament could cause problems for the PM in future Brexit-related votes.


There is also uncertainty surrounding the possible economic effects of leaving the EU. While the Government claimed a 'Brexit dividend' could fund spending increases for the NHS, Business Insider reported that Brexit had already wiped £440 million a week from the economy. So with this uncertainty, it's clear why this is such an important issue for many people. The referendum's two-year anniversary was marked by a 100,000-strong march for a vote on the final Brexit deal, showing that passions have remained high since the referendum and likely will for the foreseeable future.

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