The UK’s decision to leave the EU five years ago will allow the country to “seize” its true potential when recovering from the pandemic, Boris Johnson has said.
Marking half a decade to the day that UK voted to leave the bloc in a knife-edge referendum result, the Prime Minister said Brexit will act as a spur to jobs and renewal across the UK as the country builds back following COVID-19.
It comes as a survey by Savanta ComRes determined that the UK remains as divided as ever on Brexit.
If the referendum was re-run today, Remain would narrowly clinch the victory by 51% to 49% – if those undecided were discounted, the poll found.
On 23 June 2016, 51.9% of voters were in favour of leaving the EU, with 48.1% wanting to remain.
In a statement to mark the anniversary of the referendum on Wednesday, the PM said it is his “mission” to use the freedoms gained by Brexit to deliver a more prosperous future for the British people.
“This government got Brexit done and we’ve already reclaimed our money, laws, borders and waters,” Mr Johnson, who spearheaded the Vote Leave campaign, said.
“Now as we recover from this pandemic, we will seize the true potential of our regained sovereignty to unite and level up our whole United Kingdom.
“With control over our regulations and subsidies, and with freeports driving new investment, we will spur innovation, jobs and renewal across every part of our country.
“The decision to leave the EU may now be part of our history, but our clear mission is to utilise the freedoms it brings to shape a better future for our people.”
But pro-Europe former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine warned that leaving the bloc has left an “ominous” outlook for the UK.
President of the European Movement Lord Heseltine said Brexit is the “very opposite” of what the country needs as it recovers from the pandemic.
“Five years on, Brexit is far from ‘done’. It has only just begun and the forecast is ominous,” he said.
“Storm clouds are gathering on the horizon, chief among them the threat to the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland.
“The fishing industry has now voiced its betrayal and the Australian trade deal will slowly erode the competitiveness of British farmers over the next 15 years.
“Meanwhile, the financial services industry quietly moves its activities to Europe in order to escape the continuing Brexit uncertainty.”
The Savanta ComRes poll found that most people have not switched their views on the matter over the last few years, with just 6% of Remainers in 2016 saying they would now opt to Leave and 7% of Leavers who would change to support Remain.
If the question a straight yes or no choice of the UK rejoining the EU, over half of people – 51% – would be in favour of staying out.
Meanwhile, a third of respondents (31%) regarded Brexit as a success five years on, while 34% deemed it a failure.
And more than 51% of people said Brexit has left the country more divided with just 13% believing it is more united.
Savanta ComRes political research director Chris Hopkins said: “On the five-year anniversary of the Brexit vote, this poll shows a country just as divided as it was during the campaign, with a re-run of the referendum on a knife-edge according to this voting intention.
“However, if either of these questions were to be put to the British people again, those who did not vote in 2016 look to be a key source of Remain/Rejoin support, and there are always likely to be sceptics regarding whether such potential voters would even turn out in any future vote.
“Therefore those still in favour of Remaining or Rejoining would need to do much more to convince Leavers that they’d made the wrong decision in 2016, rather than relying on those who did not vote last time to turn out.”
Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,191 UK adults aged over 18 between 18 and 20 June 2021.
Data were weighted by age, sex, region and SEG (Socio-Economic group), as well as by the results of the 2016 EU Referendum and 2019 General Election.
The findings come five years after the UK voted to leave the European, sparking an economic and political earthquake.
Shortly after the result came through, then prime minister David Cameron announced his intention to resign.
The UK finally left the EU after 47 years at the end of January 2020 – almost four years on from the referendum.
A light show illuminated Downing Street when the clock struck 11pm, with a mixture of celebration and regret across Britain on a landmark day.
The PM hosted a reception in Number 10 for cabinet ministers, advisers and civil servants, officials who were involved in the negotiations, and supporters of the Leave campaign.
And hundreds of Brexit supporters gathered for a party led by Nigel Farage on Parliament Square.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, the UK flag was removed from its flagpole outside the European Parliament.