While 27% of respondents wanted a much closer relationship with the goal of re-joining, and 22% wanted a closer relationship but staying outside the bloc, 12% wanted to move away from Europe. Of the 24% of respondents who approved the deal, they did so with an important caveat that it was the best deal in the “foreseeable future”. About 15% of respondents said they did not know.
The poll, conducted the week after the deal went into effect on January 1, is the first major temperature test of what the British think about the reality of Brexit. Although the UK formally left the European Union on March 31 of last year, the transitional arrangements have ensured that few results will change until the end of December.
But since then, trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland has been disrupted, the UK’s financial markets have lost business to continental Europe, and British exporters have had to watch fresh produce rotting as new trade barriers prevented exports from reaching European markets in time.
It remains difficult to get rid of British sentiments towards Europe. In general, situations have eased in the past twelve months. While only a minority would like to join the bloc, the majority of respondents said they view the European Union as a more important international partner to the UK than to the United States.
While many younger voters are more pro-European than older voters, the report notes that more than a quarter of respondents who voted to leave the European Union describe themselves as “European”.
The poll, conducted on behalf of the BFPG by the polling organization Opinium, a 2002 British citizen asked questions ranging from their opinion of Johnson’s Brexit deal to how much they really care about the so-called “special relationship” with the United States.
Most respondents were broadly positive that the UK should be active on the world stage, largely in the areas Johnson says are his government’s priorities. Johnson has made clear he wants to use his G7 presidency this year, as well as the UK’s position as host of the UN Climate Change Conference, to make a statement about Britain’s post-Brexit commitment to the international order.
Uncomfortable for Johnson, the report also reveals challenges to the “global Britain” agenda among British voters. The prime minister has long claimed that the advantage of Brexit is the freedom to pursue independent foreign policies on trade, environmental issues, national security, regular leadership, and foreign aid.
Indeed, most believe that UK foreign policy spending should be maintained or increased, support a multilateral approach to climate change, and would like to see Britain show moral leadership.
But when it comes to international relations on the tour, Johnson falls short of absolute support: 49% of respondents said they did not trust the UK government when it came to foreign policy, compared to 39% who did. About 12% do not know. Johnson may also be anxious to find that voters he has pushed away from other parties to his victory in 2019 – with his pledge to “end Brexit” – are the most reclusive.
However, she adds, “I am optimistic that a project that does not happen once in a generation to bring countries together around a shared vision of the UK’s role in the world can work, but it will be difficult to realize this ambition.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the report paints a picture of a nation grappling with the most important shift in its domestic and foreign agendas in decades, and unsure what its next steps should be. For many, it will confirm the view that the 2016 vote to leave the European Union has created a new divide in British politics that is still far from the bridge.