Soft option

The Political Logic of Hard Brexit

Does Britain really want a hard Brexit?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Many experts believe that leaving the single market will do serious damage to the UK’s economy.

  • Facts


    • Britain voted to leave the European Union in a referendum in June.
    • In a speech last week, Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to suggest that the government was planning a hard Brexit.
    • Polls suggets that staying in the single market is more important to Britons than restricting freedom of movement.
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Little more than three months after the United Kingdom’s decision in June to leave the European Union, Brexit politics are careening out of control in the UK. An almost revolutionary – and very un-British – dynamic has taken hold, and, as British Prime Minister Theresa May indicated in her “Little Englander” speech at the Conservative Party conference this month, the UK is heading for a so-called hard Brexit.

That outcome would run counter to British public opinion, which remains moderate on the question of fully breaking with the E.U. According to a July BBC/ComRes poll, 66 percent of respondents considered “maintaining access to the single market” to be more important than restricting freedom of movement.

In an ICM poll the same month, only 10 percent of respondents said they would prioritize ending free movement over maintaining access to the single market, while 30 percent viewed the two as equally important and 38 percent considered maintaining full access to the single market the priority.

These findings will surprise only those who buy into the narrative that the West is confronting a large-scale xenophobic revolt against the elites. While the “Leave” camp certainly included many hard Brexiteers whose primary motivation was to end free movement, it also comprised people who believed Boris Johnson, the former London mayor and current foreign secretary, when he promised (as he still does) that the UK could have its cake and eat it.

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