No public mood for compromise as Brexit gulf widens: study

James PHEBY
Critics doubt May can succeed in amending her current Brexit agreement (AFP Photo/Tolga AKMEN)

London (AFP) - There is "no compromise" on Brexit that commands majority public support in Britain, with opposition to Prime Minister Theresa May's deal the only point of agreement, a leading pollster said Tuesday.

"No procedural or substantive option appears to be both widely popular and capable of bridging the Brexit divide," said the University of Strathclyde's John Curtice.

"Our politicians are constantly being told that you should be seeking the centre ground.

"The problem with Brexit is that the centre ground of politics is rather thinly populated," he said, presenting a report entitled "Brexit and Public Opinion 2019" in London.

The report, drawn from collated polls, highlights the challenge facing prime minister May as she tries to resurrect the deal she struck with the European Union after if was comprehensively rejected by MPs.

A slim majority of the public are in favour of her renegotiating the deal, but none of the possible outcomes of that renegotiation enjoy majority support, according to the polls.

At either end of the spectrum, leaving without a deal and holding a second referendum both command strong partisan support, but largely cancel each other out on the national stage.

A "soft" Brexit that seeks to remain part of some EU institutions appears to please neither side, according to the report's findings.

"A 'soft' Brexit is a Remainer compromise that runs the risk of being little loved," said Curtice.

- 'Pronounced' division -

An ICM poll published on Sunday revealed that leaving with no deal was the most popular option when put up against another referendum, a general election and May's deal, but still only commands 28 percent support.

The campaign for a second referendum has gathered pace in recent months, but Curtice found little rising public appetite.

With public opinion so divided, Curtice suggested that "maybe the message our politicians need to take away is that to govern is to choose".

Part of the problem revealed by the polls is that Brexit has now become "a new source of political identification" transcending party loyalty, making it a daunting task for political leaders to unite their traditional support base behind any plan.

"Only one in 16 people don't have a Brexit identity whereas more than one in five have no party identity," said a study by Geoff Evans and Florian Schaffner, which was published in the report.

The study cited figures showing that only nine percent of Remainers felt a connection with Leave voters, compared to 21 percent of Leavers who felt a connection with Remainers.

A separate YouGov poll published Monday showed more than a third of Remainers would be upset if a close relative married a strong Leave supporter.

"Social polarization is pronounced and shows no sign of diminishing," concluded the study.