Archive for the 'Article 50' Category


Terms of Endearment

Sunday, May 7th, 2017


“Tain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It) sang Ella.  “That’s what gets results.”  A lesson the EU and the British government might usefully tattoo on their respective foreheads as they embark on post-Article 50 negotiations.  Or try to.  Nine months on from the referendum and two months since Article 50 was formally triggered, both the EU and Britain are still shouting at each other in a way familiar to divorce lawyers wearily trying to inject realism into their clients’ heads.

However tough negotiations are, tone matters, surprisingly often as much as the substance.   Even if you have right or the law or a majority on your side, a touch of humility, an acceptance that the other side is entitled to feel whatever it is they are feeling, that they have a point – even if you do not agree with it – can help defuse a heated situation.  A generosity of spirit can help both parties feel that the results, even if tough, were fairly arrived at.  European history is full of examples of the disastrous consequences that can occur when the victors of a conflict or the strong are overcome by hubris.

So two examples of how both Britain and the EU are currently getting it wrong.

This is not just a negotiation.

Britain never wholeheartedly signed up to the European project, its approach being primarily transactional and commercial.  Fair enough then for it to feel that the commercial advantages of being in the EU were outweighed by the political disadvantages and vote accordingly.  But it should not then be surprised that the EU might also seek to take a transactional and commercial approach to Britain’s exit.  And in its understandable desire to seek a new trading relationship with the EU, Britain has failed to understand that its rejection of the EU hurt.  Brexit is not simply a staging post on the way to a new and different trading agreement but a blow to the EU’s pride and amour propre.  For the first time, a member state rejected the EU in toto, a rejection felt even more acutely, given that Britain had been a member, arguably owed at least some of its success in recent years to that membership and already benefited from a series of opt-outs.

What more did the ungrateful Brits want?  And added to this was what appeared to be an arrogant assumption that Britain was nonetheless sufficiently important (a £290 billion market as David Davis repeatedly says) that the EU would quickly have to reach an agreement on terms favourable to Britain.  Undoubtedly, it makes commercial and political sense to come to an agreement on Britain’s future relationship with the EU.  But if Britain can act on its feelings about the EU, so too can the EU react – and in its own way.  How it does so is not in our control.  Telling them that they should behave rationally when, to them, we have taken an unbelievably irrational step shows a tin ear for the dynamics of a break-up.

It’s not me, it’s you.

Much of the criticism levelled at the EU in recent days has been of what appear to be unreasonable demands for an enormous exit payment and a refusal to enter into trade talks, at least until payment has been agreed.  The EU seems to be doing what it accuses Britain of wanting to do – cherry-picking – though in truth this is something which the EU has always done with its own rules.  But the more fundamental criticism is that the EU refuses to accept (in public at least) that it could possibly be in any way at fault when its second largest contributor, a major European country, chooses to leave after decades of experience as a member.  Its reaction seems predicated on an assumption that it is simply impermissible, illegitimate even, for a country to take a different view of its own best interests, that it is behaving like a errant child which must be punished and that, therefore, in Juncker’s reported words: “Brexit cannot be a success.” 

It would have been perfectly possible for Mr Juncker to have said that he thought that Britain had made the wrong discussion in deciding to leave but that, nonetheless, he understood that this was Britain’s democratic right, that he felt sure that Britain understood that a future relationship would be different to membership (and in the EU’s view) worse (though Britain might take a different view from its perspective), that Britain was an important country in Europe with which the EU wanted to have a friendly and constructive relationship and that he wished it well.  But no.  This has not been said.  Why?

Political integration and freedom of movement are integral to the EU.   So, logically, from the EU’s perspective, their loss would put Britain in a worse position (even if Britain might think otherwise).  The EU’s apparent insistence that Britain must lose more than these risks giving the impression that the EU itself seems to think that these are not so much advantages but burdens to be endured, that it does not have much confidence that the central tenets of the projet are something really shared by EU populations (or, in some cases, leaders, Viktor Orban being a case in point).

A more self-critical EU would be more willing to ask itself whether it might have done something over the last 43 years of Britain’s membership which led to last June’s result, whether it was in any way at fault and whether it might be possible that it has anything to learn.  A more self-confident EU would be less fearful of what departure by a recalcitrant member might mean, would be more willing to agree fair exit terms, confident in its mission and of public support for it.  An EU that genuinely understood European culture and history would instinctively understand that the perspectives of London and Lublin are likely to be very different, that what may be right for one is not right for the other and would seek to accommodate such views rather than to quash them.

It is fine for a German politician to tweet that “The British government must abandon myth that all British will be better off post-Brexit.”  More fruitful might be to abandon the myth that all British were better off before Brexit and, indeed, that all Europeans are better off as a result of the EU’s decisions in recent years.

And that is the real danger of the EU’s current position: not its effect on negotiations with Britain but that it ignores the very real problems within the EU, the dissatisfaction which has been building up, how this might manifest itself and what this could lead to.  Rather than congratulate itself (or sigh with relief) that Macron will (likely) win the French Presidency it should be asking itself how it is that someone like Marine Le Pen seems set to get a vote as high as 40% in a founding member.  Or it could look at humiliated Greece or no-growth Italy or Hungary, putting up borders and containers to house unwanted migrants.  Intelligent self-reflection has never been the EU’s strong point.  Nor Britain’s, despite its interminable EU-related navel-gazing over recent years.  Time for both to say less in public and think more.



Voters want May to negotiate Brexit and not Corbyn and that’s all you need to know

Monday, May 1st, 2017

A new poll shows that UK adults overwhelmingly trust Theresa May rather than Jeremy Corbyn to negotiate Brexit by a margin of 51% to 13%. All else is secondary writes Keiran Pedley.

On this week’s PB/Polling Matters podcast (see below) I spoke to Chris Hanretty from the University of East Anglia about events in France and the prospect of a Tory landslide in June. As part of the show, I also unveiled some new polling from our Polling Matters / Opinium series that, in my view, tells you all you need to know about this General Election. It’s worth going over some of it again given the furore over YouGov ‘only’ showing a 13 point lead this weekend.

A Brexit election

Our poll surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,006 UK adults and asked how closely they were following the election, what they thought the key issues were in deciding  how to vote and who they trusted most to negotiate Brexit. It is this latter question that I think is the most telling. UK adults trust May over Corbyn by a margin on 51% to 13%. The rest either don’t know or trust neither.

Who would you trust more to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the EU? All UK adults

Remain voters

Leave voters

Theresa May 51% 40% 69%
Jeremy Corbyn 13% 20% 7%
Don’t know 14% 13% 11%
Neither 22% 27% 13%

These numbers are striking. Not only does Theresa May lead Jeremy Corbyn on this measure by 62 points among Leave voters but she also leads among Remain voters by a 2:1 margin as well.  At a time when the EU is setting out its negotiating stance ahead of Brexit talks it is impossible to understate the importance of these numbers. The context of this election is that Brexit negotiations are about to begin and Theresa May is overwhelmingly the most trusted figure to represent Britain at those negotiations. In my view, all other issues are of secondary importance in this election and in our understanding of the eventual outcome.

If you need further evidence, we also asked respondents to choose the top three issues of most importance to them in deciding how they will vote. To be clear, we asked this question before the one above to avoid any question order bias. Here is what they said:

 Most important factors when considering how to vote in the upcoming General Election? All UK adults Remain voters Leave voters
Who will negotiate the best Brexit deal as Britain leaves the EU 38% 28% 53%
Which party I think will form the most effective government overall 37% 40% 36%
Which party has the best policies on the NHS 31% 36% 29%
Which party has the most policies I like 25% 30% 22%
Which party has the best economic policies 23% 31% 17%
Which party has the best policies on immigration 20% 8% 33%
Which party will promise to stop Brexit 14% 26% 2%
Whether Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn will be the next Prime Minister 13% 11% 16%
Which party has the best education policies 9% 13% 6%
Don’t know 6% 4% 7%
I don’t plan to vote 4% 1% 3%
Something else (please specify) 4% 4% 4%
None of the above 3% 3% 3%

There are two clear winners here: ‘who will negotiate the best Brexit deal’ and ‘who will form the most competent government overall’.  We have established that May leads Corbyn on the former and although we didn’t specifically ask, I think we can safely assume she would win on the latter too (the two points are essentially related). In short, the issue of day, outside general perceptions of competence, is Brexit and May is the most trusted on this issue.

But hold on. Perhaps I am oversimplifying a little. There is some interesting nuance to mull over when we look at the results split by Remain and Leave voters. For Remain voters, stopping Brexit entirely is almost as important as negotiating the best Brexit deal, with the overarching question of competence and policies on the NHS the most important factors driving Remainers to the polls. However, for Leave voters, the Brexit deal is convincingly THE most important issue (by 17 points) alongside the competence question and policies on immigration (unsurprising given what we know about the Leave vote).

Why am I convinced the Brexit question matters most? Well, firstly because it comes out on top in the question above and secondly because we won’t be able to escape it in the coming weeks. As we approach polling day, I expect the Tories to increasingly focus on this idea of ‘who do you want to negotiate Brexit’? In my opinion, it is a far more effective message than this ‘coalition of chaos’ idea. It brings into sharp focus the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn being responsible for negotiating Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and I suspect that this will be enough to drive Conservatives to the polls. Meanwhile Remainers – unlike Leave voters – are not consolidating their support in one party.

Brits are of course concerned about other issues – not least the NHS – but given that Labour agrees that Brexit should happen, it is hard to see how the central question of this election is not therefore who leads that process. Voters clearly think that person should be May and not Corbyn, which suits the Tories just fine and is really all we need to know about what happens next aside from the scale of the Tory victory.

Keiran presents the PB/Polling Matters podcast and tweets about polling and public opinion at @keiranpedley

Listen to the latest Polling Matters podcast with Chris Hanretty here

About the poll: Opinium surveyed 2,006 UK adults online between 21st to 24th April, 2017. Tables will be on the website in the next 2 days.


PB/Polling Matters podcast: Is a Tory landslide inevitable? And Vive le pollsters!

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017


On this week’s podcast Keiran returns and is joined by Chris Hanretty from the University of East Anglia.

Keiran and Chris celebrate the excellent performance of French pollsters last weekend and discuss the implications of Macron and Le Pen making the second round. Is a Macron victory now inevitable? What happens next and would a British version of ‘En Marche’ be successful? Keiran and Chris also discuss the seeming inevitability of a Conservative landslide in June and what might happen to the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.

To finish the show, Keiran unveils some new Polling Matters / Opinium polling that asks how engaged the public are in the campaign, what issues matter most to them and who is best placed to deal with them.

Listen here

Follow this week’s guests




Theresa May breaks her word and calls an early general election for June 8th of this year

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Will Labour agree to an early election?

Given the polls I can understand why Mrs May is calling a general election, but there’s a few major issues to sort out

  1. Can she satisfy the fixed-term parliament act in the vote tomorrow?
  2. Will Mrs May receive any backlash, like Gordon Brown, for going back on her word on holding an early election
  3. If she loses the vote, what then?
  4. If the SNP put in their manifesto Scotland should have Indyref2 next year, and they win a majority of votes or seats in Scotland, how can Mrs May refuse, Mrs May might have put the Union at risk. (It also damages her argument against holding an Indyref2?)

If Corbyn gets creamed at the general election, will he continue as Labour leader? This might be the easiest way for Labour rebels to get rid of Corbyn.


Update Corbyn backs an early election


Update – Here’s what Mrs May used to say


Richard Nabavi on the Brexit Blame Game

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Now that the trigger has been pulled, the EU27 and the United Kingdom have begun the public posturing over the Brexit negotiations. So far this is not looking encouraging. Theresa May’s warm words about wanting a ”deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU” to include ”both economic and security cooperation” seem to have been, bizarrely, interpreted as a threat. The EU continues to insist that we have to settle the outline of the ‘exit deal’ before we can discuss what we are exiting to. They have thrown a hand-grenade into the negotiating process by appearing to want to blackmail us over Gibraltar.

As with many divorces, the parties start out claiming they want an amicable settlement, but as the specifics emerge, matters get less and less amicable. Often money becomes the focus of the bitterness, and the Brexit negotiations look well set to be no exception. The EU27 have done nothing to dampen down speculation that they are looking for an exit payment in the region of €60bn, which they claim is legally due. To make it worse, they are holding out for this to be agreed before we can even begin to discuss anything like a ‘deep and special partnership’ with the EU. So far the UK government has not risen to the bait; however, the House of Lords Brexit committee argued convincingly, in a recent report, that the UK has no legal obligation to pay anything at all.

Whatever the exact legal position, there is no possibility of the UK paying anything even remotely like €60bn, or even half that. It would be politically impossible to agree a sum which is several times what we pay each year as full members, no matter how it is dressed up or phased. Equally, though, the EU27 seem to have manoeuvred themselves into a negotiating position where they cannot do a deal which doesn’t involve a chunky exit payment. Amongst the diverse positions of the 27 EU countries, that is one thing which both net contributors and net recipients agree on. By making such a public show of it, they have made it politically very hard to draw back and agree a reasonable sum which the UK might be able to agree to. Although, logically, this shouldn’t be a major stumbling block, politically it has been set up to be so.

All this means that an acrimonious breakdown of the Brexit negotiations is quite possible, even likely, as the war of words causes attitudes to harden on both sides.

However, opposition parties rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of a Brexit disaster being blamed by voters on Theresa May are badly misjudging how a breakdown of relations with the EU27 would play out in the UK. The PM has been consistent in wanting a good deal for both sides, but demands for a ludicrously high payment by the EU27, explicit mention by some EU politicians of wanting to ‘punish’ the UK, and above all a deliberate refusal to agree a mutually beneficial trade deal in time for the end of the two-year Article 50 period, would cause a polarisation of views in the UK – with most voters siding with the PM against what would look like egregious bullying by the EU. If voters are forced to choose between backing her as she stands up for plucky Britain against unreasonable demands, or seeming to side with vindictive EU bullies against Britain, she and the Conservatives will be the net political beneficiaries. The other parties (apart from the SNP) would be forced to support her, or risk looking unpatriotic. The question would simplify down to: whose side are you on?

A Brexit Breakdown would be a disaster for the UK, as well as for the EU27 – but in purely party-political terms it wouldn’t be a disaster for the Conservative Party.

Richard Nabavi


PB/Polling Matters podcast on Brexit, Article 50 polling, Scotland and the return of GfK

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

After a momentous day in British politics, Keiran and Rob discuss public opinion on Brexit and  Keiran looks at Scotland’s future with Ipsos Mori Scotland Research Director Mark Diffley. Finally, Keiran talks more about the new GfK political polling that has Corbyn’s approval rating among Brits being as weak as Donald Trump’s. More on that polling (including methodology and data tables here).

The segment on Scotland dominates this week’s episode and is a particularly wide ranging discussion including new information on why the polls are not moving towards Independence at this stage. Keiran and Rob also unveil new Polling Matters / Opinium numbers showing party cross-breaks that might surprise you.

Follow this week’s guests:




How you can help the Podcast

Please vote for the show in the British Podcast Awards for ‘Listeners choice’. Just go here  search for ‘Polling Matters’ and click on the avatar with the graph (not the one by Frank Newport). Shortlisted shows get featured on The Guardian so it really helps grow our audience if we make the cut.


I’d feel a lot more comfortable about the Brexit negotiations if Osborne was playing a key role

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Beside him May & her team are political pygmies

The swift way in which Angela Merkel has undermined Theresa May’s Article 50 invocation plan underlines how critical it is that Team GB has the very best team in the coming two years.

That the German Chancellor should so attack May’s Brexit negotiation plan within four hours shows how much she needs a highly skilled political team at her side. A politically astute PM, advised by a politically competent Foreign Secretary, would have anticipated the Merkel reaction and she wouldn’t have had her negotiation plan squashed so publicly so quickly.

    Team Fox/Johnson/Davis are simply not up to the task in hand. They don’t have the politically skills. The one leading Tory who does is the man May sacked in such a humiliating fashion just after moving into Number 10 – ex-Chancellor and now Standard Editor, George Osborne.

May urgently needs to swallow her pride and bring Osbo back into the fold for this critical period.

She won’t of course and that is worrying.

This is so important for the nation and, if she thought about it, Theresa May’s political legacy that she cannot by-pass Osborne.

Mike Smithson


For the record where BREXIT opinion stood on Article 50 day

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

YouGov’s tracker continues to show little movement

Brexit opinion – the party supporter splits

Brexit view by socio-economic grouping

It’s top of the Issues Index as well