A majority of Britons are not satisfied with the post-Brexit trade agreement that Boris Johnson secured with the European Union, according to a survey which provides the first detailed glimpse of the nation’s attitude towards the deal since it went into effect.
The report, published by the British Foreign Policy Group, an independent think tank advocating for a stronger global presence for the UK, shows that less than a quarter of those polled think the prime minister’s deal is “the best framework for our relationship with the EU to move forward.”
The question of what it should be replaced with, however, reveals that almost five years since the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union, the nation is still deeply divided over what role Britain should play in Europe.
While 27% of those polled wanted a much closer relationship with a view to their reintegration and 22% wanted a closer relationship while remaining outside the bloc, 12% wanted to move further 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 for “the foreseeable future.” About 15% of respondents said they did not know.
The survey, carried out within a week of the deal coming into effect on January 1, is the first major temperature check on how Britons think the reality of Brexit is. Even though the UK officially left the EU on March 31 of last year, the transitional arrangements ensured that few consequences changed until the end of December.
But since then trade between Britain and Northern Ireland has been disrupted, UK financial markets have lost business to mainland Europe, and UK exporters have been forced to see fresh produce rot so that new trade barriers were preventing exports from reaching European markets on time.
British sentiment towards Europe remains difficult to disentangle. Overall, attitudes have softened over the past 12 months. While only a minority want to join the bloc, a majority of respondents said they saw the European Union as a more important international partner for the UK than the US.
And while many younger metropolitan voters are more pro-European than older voters, the report notes that more than a quarter of respondents who voted to leave the EU describe themselves as “European”.
The survey, which was conducted on behalf of BFPG by pollster Opinium, asked 2,002 UK citizens questions ranging from what they thought of Johnson’s Brexit deal to how much they really cared. the so-called “special relationship” with the United States.
Most respondents were broadly convinced that the UK should be active on the world stage, largely in areas that Johnson said are a priority for his government. Johnson has made it 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 on the commitment of the Great Britain after Brexit in favor of international order.
Uncomfortably for Johnson, the report also reveals challenges for his “World Britain” agenda among British voters. The Prime Minister has long argued that an advantage of Brexit would be the freedom to pursue independent foreign policies on trade, environment, national security, normal leadership and foreign aid.
Indeed, a majority believe UK spending on foreign policy 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 in-cycle international relations, Johnson does not enjoy overwhelming support: 49% of respondents said they did not trust the UK government on foreign policy, compared to 39% who did. . About 12% did not know. It could also alarm Johnson that the voters he valued from other parties to win his 2019 victory – with his promise to ‘do Brexit’ – are the most isolationist.
“Our research clearly shows that obtaining public consent around the Global Britain project will be one of the central tests and the biggest challenges Boris Johnson will face in his tenure as Prime Minister,” said Sophia gaston, director of the BFPG. “The Conservative Party’s electoral base is evolving and moving away from the Prime Minister’s own instincts towards internationalism and openness. Meanwhile, many more voters are being pushed back by Global Britain’s associations with Brexit.
However, she adds, “I am optimistic that a one-in-a-generation project to unite the country around a common vision of the UK’s role in the world can be successful, but it will be hard work for achieve this ambition. . “
The report, perhaps unsurprisingly, paints a picture of a nation accepting the most significant change to its domestic and foreign agenda in decades, unsure of what its next steps should be. And for many, it will confirm the view that the 2016 vote to leave the EU created a new wedge in British politics that is sort of a bridge.