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The Remain delusion: "the 48 per cent" do not exist

The number who want Brexit stopped or radically softened is only 25 per cent.

On the morning of 24 June 2016, Brexit opponents heralded the birth of a new movement: "the 48 per cent". Those who voted Remain in the EU referendum would seek to block withdrawal or at least secure the softest version.

Almost a year on, Theresa May is pursuing a "hard Brexit" (the Prime Minister prefers "clean") and is on course to secure a landslide election victory. But Remainers hope that tactical voting by "the 48 per cent" against anti-EU candidates could yet thwart the Conservatives. Their ambitions, however, are likely to be disappointed. The truth, which few have recognised, is that "the 48 per cent" no longer exist.

After voting Remain, they ceased to act as a unified political bloc. The crucial figure for understanding May's decision to pursue Brexit is not "the 48 per cent" or "the 52 per cent" but the 69 per cent - the number who believe the government has a duty to leave the EU (more than a third of whom voted Remain). A mere 21 per cent agree that the government should either block Brexit or seek to prevent it through a second referendum.

"The 48 per cent" are not even united on the desirability of a "soft Brexit". Only 24 per cent, according to YouGov polling, believe it is more important to enjoy tariff-free trade with the EU than it is to control immigration (16 per cent believe the reverse, while 40 per cent, like Boris Johnson, want to have their cake and eat it). Fifty two per cent believe May's proposed Brexit deal would be "good for Britain" (only 22 per cent believe it would be bad) and 61 per cent believe it "respects the referendum" (only 11 per cent believe it does not). Far from believing the government has no mandate for a "hard Brexit", 64 per cent believe this version respects the vote and only 12 per cent believe it does not. Finally, 55 per cent support May's assertion that "no deal is better than a bad deal", while only 24 per cent oppose this stance.

Read more: The left-wing Eurosceptics who helped topple a Prime Minister

The Richmond by-election last year, where the pro-Brexit Zac Goldsmith was defeated by the anti-Brexit Lib Dems, was cited by some in favour of a "48 per cent strategy". But by-elections are rarely a reliable guide to general elections and the south London seat, where 69 per cent voted Remain, is highly atypical. Only 35 per cent of parliamentary constituencies backed Remain and even fewer would do so now.

Politics, of course, is about leading opinion, not following it. But to grasp their predicament, Remainers most recognise that they enjoy the support not of "the 48 per cent" but "the 25 per cent". These figures help explain why the Conservatives enjoy a mammoth poll lead (leading among Remainers in yesterday's ICM poll), why the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats have not surged and why promising a second referendum would not be an electoral panacea for Labour or a new party. At Labour's general election campaign launch earlier today, Jeremy Corbyn stated: "This election isn't about Brexit itself. That issue has been settled." Based on the polling, it is hard to argue with him.

The UK has barely begun negotiating its departure from the EU and few economic consequences have been felt. But as long as Remainers speak as if there is a nascent "progressive majority" built on "the 48 per cent", they will repeat the very mistake that led to Brexit: misreading the electorate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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