Happy 1st Birthday Brexitometer!

It is now one year since the first ever Brextometer session here in Shrewsbury. Since then this useful campaigning tool has been used the length and breadth of the country to gauge the level of public support for Brexit and as a focus for the debate that has gone on in the streets of our towns and cities as parliamentarians have failed to reach any conclusions and the divisions on Brexit remain.

What can we learn looking back?

Shrewsbury and Shropshire more generally voted to leave in the 2016 Referendum so it was with some trepidation that a small band of local people decided to confront shoppers out on a Saturday morning to ask them whether they thought the plans to implement Brexit were going well in March 2018. The Open Britain Shrewsbury campaigners were clearly keen to persuade their fellow citizens that the referendum decision to leave the European Union without knowing the real alternatives was a bad one. They also thought that there was strong evidence that the actual options the government was presenting to the public were very different to the promises that had been made. We were therefore keen to find out what people thought and given that all the pundits had explained that the result in 2016 was significantly a protest vote against the establishment, we were interested to see what had changed. We were genuinely interested to know people’s opinions. At least one Leaver has accused us of fixing the results by placing stickers in our favoured boxes in advance. That is categorically untrue. While those who chose to give us their opinions self selected and many passed by, the dots on the boards represented the genuine opinions of those who voted on every day we were there.

In the early days the questions asked people to rank their expectations of life outside the EU. Would practical things like trade, jobs, legal rights and protections be better or worse once we had left. Then we started to ask people about how the government was handling the negotiations and once the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement was known the three options became leaving with No Deal, Leaving with Mrs May’s Deal or holding another public vote with the option to remain. Most recently there have been essentially two questions with three options: Leave, either with or without a deal or remain, and who should make the decision people, Parliament or the Government.

If you want to see the results for each session go to the Brexitometer Page on this website for pictures of every final board.

Over the months the numbers who voted and the locations in Shropshire that we polled varied. We were usually in the centre of Shrewsbury and often at other locations in the County as well. on 26th January we had four locations Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Ludlow and Telford. The results on that day were typical except that we also asked about rescinding Art. 50.

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This day we included the option of Revoking Art.50 and were surprised that so many Remainers opted for this option. It was consistent with the hardening of attitudes on both sides of the argument. Leavers, who may well have voted in protest in 2016 increasingly regarded the Government’s approach to be unacceptable but they did not conclude that leaving could be a mistake. Rather they saw what was happening as failure by the establishment to deliver the easy exit that had been promised and concluded that this was further evidence that those in power would not do what they wanted.

When the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement became known Mrs. May accomplished what she had said she would, a united country! Unfortunately it was united against her proposals and her failure to recognise that and continue to plough on has led to the current situation. At the same time Mr Corbyn has also failed to understand the public mood and as a result while we have the least popular Government on record, the opposition is not seen as a viable alternative and also languishes in the polls.

Remainers too have become entrenched and increasingly angry to hear Government ministers respond to their request for further People’s Vote to help resolve matters as being undemocratic on the basis on the 2016 Referendum result, when it is clear this no longer reflects public opinion. Furthermore when the future of the national interest is being decided on the basis of personal ambition and the future of one other political party we feel completely unrepresented and disenfranchised. So much for seek ing a consensus.

Eventually we will find a way out, but the damage that has been done to our political system will take a long time to repair. Hopefully the next generation of politicians will reflect on the dangers of promising what they cannot deliver and then blaming external forces for their own failures.

Finally, on a more positive note, although the Brexitometer sessions have often provided lively and robust debate it has on the whole been good natured. I am not sure how many minds were changed but I do treasure a number of parting comments along the lines. “I doubt whether we will ever agree about this, but I respect your right to be here expressing your views.” It is critical for a functioning democracy that we continue to share these values.

Bob Saunders