This evidence shows that Brexit continues to be a potentially destabilizing force on British democracy.

Both Remainers and Leavers willing to let MPs disrupt the constitution to get the Brexit they want, survey shows

With Brexit once again in limbo, new research shows that Remainers and Leavers are both willing to disrupt Britain’s unwritten constitution to get the Brexit outcome they want.

As MPs debate how to proceed with Brexit, the research shows similar numbers of people who either want to leave or remain – two thirds - would be in favour of doing “whatever is necessary” to achieve Britain either staying in, or leaving the EU, even if it meant breaking constitutional conventions.

This evidence shows that Brexit continues to be a potentially destabilizing force on British democracy.

Jason Reifler, Professor of Political Science at the University of Exeter, who led the research, said:  “We see strong evidence that the British public is willing to support ‘whatever is necessary’ to secure their preferred outcome on Brexit - even if that means violating norms and conventions on the unwritten British constitution.

“Supporters of both sides appear ready for leaders in Parliament to bend -- or possibly even break -- the rules and conventions of the unwritten constitution to get the Brexit outcome they want. Once broken, norms and conventions are difficult to repair. These changes could have far more reaching consequences for Britain and British democracy than just what happens with Brexit.” 

People who support Brexit were asked if they agreed that “Leavers in Parliament should do whatever is necessary to make sure the UK leaves the EU on 31 October. Around three quarters (76 per cent) agreed. Approximately one half of leavers were asked a nearly identical question – the only difference being a clause at the end of the question that added “even if it breaks the conventions of our unwritten constitution.” In this second question, the proportion willing to support whatever it takes fell – but only 14 percentage points to 62 per cent.

The survey followed the same procedure for Remainers – half of those who took part in the survey were asked if “Remainers in Parliament should do whatever is necessary to stop a no-deal Brexit” while the other half received a version that added the clause “even if it breaks the conventions of our unwritten constitution.” Five out of six (83 per cent) remainers agreed with the version without the constitutional violation clause. The proportion that agreed when the question included “even if it breaks the conventions of our unwritten constitution” fell, but only to 67 per cent.

The research was carried out by Tim Gravelle, Senior Manager, Research and Data Insights at SurveyMonkey, Professor Reifler and Thomas J. Scotto, Professor of Government and Politics, University of Strathclyde

The survey, carried out through SurveyMonkey between 5 and 9 September among 2,692 people in Britain, with the sample weighted to be demographically representative.

Professor Scotto said: “In recent months, we have seen both sides of the Brexit divide push beyond the boundaries of what is normal — proroguing Parliament, taking control of the order paper, and wholesale removal of the whip all leap to mind. Our survey suggests both Leavers and Remainers seem to believe it is acceptable to break the impasse by stepping outside the norms and conventions of the unwritten British constitution.”

Date: 25 October 2019

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