Britain regrets Brexit: European election results show a solid majority for Remain

Nigel FarageThe former leader of Britain's UK Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018.REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

  • OPINION: Statistics from the European election results in the UK show that Remain would have won, easily, if this had been a "proxy" referendum on Brexit.
  • Nigel Farage's Brexit Party and the Leavers inside the Conservative Party are now likely to fight tooth and nail against a second referendum - they know they will lose.
  • There is an obvious strategic advantage for Labour if it were to now pivot in favour of a second vote.

Reacting to the UK European election results this morning, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn said, "These elections became a proxy second referendum. Over the coming days we will have conversations across our party and movement, and reflect on these results on both sides of the Brexit divide."

Let's take him at his word.

If this really had been a second referendum on Brexit, what would the results have been?

These charts show that Remain would have won, easily.

Our first chart shows vote totals for all the major parties. I have grouped them into bundles of "Remain" voters on the left and "Leave" voters on the right. All the parties except for Labour and Conservative had solid Remain or Leave positions.

Only the Conservatives and Labour went into the elections with compromise positions: The Conservatives favouring Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal agreement which retains a customs union; and Labour favouring a softer Brexit that keeps Britain more closely tied to the European Union's single market.

To account for those compromise positions - and with the assumption that most Labour voters are Remainers and most Conservatives are Leavers - I broke out the Remain-Leave totals both with and without the main parties.

No matter which way you cut it, a clear majority of voters in this election went for Remain-oriented parties:

UK European election votes grouped by Leave Remain tendencyBI

If the totals were presented as a binary choice in a second referendum, the result would have been:

  • Remain: 55.3%
  • Leave: 44.7%
That's a 10-point majority favouring Remain. In total the remain bloc won 9.3 million votes while the leave contingent brought in 7 million.

On Brexit, there is a 10 point majority favouring RemainBI

This is not wishful thinking. The results underscore the monthly averages of tracking polls taken by YouGov ever since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

YouGov polls show a majority of Brits think Brexit was the wrong decision

brexitPantheon Macroeconomics

What does all this mean?

Two things: Nigel Farage's Brexit Party may have come first in last night's results but Britain is a solid Remain-leaning country. A second referendum would reverse the Brexit decision - so expect Farage and the hard Brexiteers inside the Conservative party to resist a "people's vote" or a "confirmatory vote" tooth and nail. They know they will lose if that vote takes place.

As for Corbyn and Labour, the party's pro-Brexit position is costing it votes. It came third in last week's vote after a strong showing from the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats. Its European vote is now almost on par with the Green Party - a previously unthinkable proposition. A Labour pivot to outright support for a second referendum could shore up the Remain vote and - if delivered - land a crushing blow on the Conservatives.

From a purely strategic point of view, that prospect must now look tempting.

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