New poll finds the British public now wants a soft Brexit

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  • NEW POLL: A soft, Norway-style Brexit is the most popular form of Brexit among British people.
  • A Brexit based on Britain keeping close ties with the single market was deemed more acceptable than any other Brexit model.
  • A no-deal Brexit – in which Britain crash out onto WTO rules – was the least popular.
  • MPs will vote on amendments relating to the single market and customs union this month.

LONDON – A soft Brexit in which Britain retains close ties to the European Union is now the most popular form of Brexit among British people, according to a new poll.

Opinium research suggests that something very close to the so-called Norway option would be received better by the public than any other Brexit model – including Theresa May’s ambition of a free trade deal similar to that between the EU and Canada.

By contrast, leaving the EU without a deal – an option pushed by a growing number of Conservative MPs – is the least popular option with the public, with just 8% saying it would be a “completely acceptable” outcome.

Norway is not in the EU but has full access to the European single market through its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA).

The Opinium poll shows that the British public is in favour of Prime Minister May pursuing a tweaked version of the Norway model. 57% described “EEA with restrictions” as acceptable, while 29% said it would be unacceptable.

This poll comes as May prepares to meet Norweigan Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Wednesday. Solberg said last month that she’d be open to Britain joining EFTA, the group which would be Britain’s way into the EEA.

As BI reported last month, Labour’s Brexit team is developing a policy of maintaining close ties with EU markets through a revised version of the Norway-option. Opinium’s research suggests this policy would be popular among the public.

Here is each Brexit model Opinium used broken down by public acceptability:

Opinium

The least popular Brexit model was a no-deal scenario, in which Britain would crash out of the EU with no arrangement in place and revert to WTO trading rules. 48% of respondents said this would be unacceptable.

This particular finding casts doubt over whether Prime Minister May’s long-standing mantra of “no deal is better than a bad deal” is supported by the British public.

Replicating the Norway-model in its current form was the second most popular Brexit mode. “Full EEA member” was deemed acceptable by 46% of people, while 40% said it would be unacceptable.

In April, the parliamentary Brexit committee advised May to adopt the Norway-model as her official Brexit fallback option. More recently, MP George Freeman – who used to head May’s policy unit – said it’s “surely time to start looking” at staying inside the single market via EEA membership.

Labour MP Gareth Thomas, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, told BI that Opinium’s research showed “there is no mandate” for a hard Brexit.

“The Brexit that was sold to the British people during the 2016 referendum, with all the benefits and none of the perceived downsides of EU membership, is not deliverable. That basic fact is becoming clearer every day,” he said.

“Polling shows there is no mandate for a hard Brexit, involving a destructive break from the Single Market and the Customs Union, which would have disastrous consequences for trade and jobs as well as leading to the re-imposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland.”

“With the politicians making a total mess of the negotiations, we need a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal once it’s clear what’s on offer. Brexit is too big to be left to just 650 MPs in Westminster to decide: the 65 million people of this country must have their voices heard as well.”

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