New EU referendum could take place within next 16 years, poling guru John Curtice says

Shifting generational attitudes towards the EU could result in another referendum on British membership by the year 2040, polling expert professor John Curtice has predicted.

Prof Curtice said the timescale would depend on “uncertain politics” and how a potential future Labour government approaches relations with the EU.

He suggested the nation’s feelings toward the 27-member bloc would change as younger people in the UK become eligible to vote while older citizens, who voted overwhelmingly for Brexit, drop off the electoral register.

“If you look so far at what’s happened to attitudes, and if you look at the age profile of attitudes towards Brexit, you can see why”, Prof Curtice told a UK in a Chaging Europe event on Wednesday.

“A lot will also happen about - how does our relationship with the EU evolve, to what extent does the next Labour government soften it or not?”

He added: “One of the things to realize is the Labour party is going to get elected by an electorate which is three-quarters anti-Brexit … Labour’s vote is almost as anti-Brexit as it was back in 2019.”

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has ruled out rejoining the EU if his party wins the next general election, which must take place by January 2025 at the latest.

He has indicated his intention to improve relations with Brussels and to negotiate a better trade deal with the bloc to ease friction at the border.

Professor Curtice speaks at a  UK in a Changing Europe event (UK in a Changing Europe)
Professor Curtice speaks at a UK in a Changing Europe event (UK in a Changing Europe)

But he has also said the UK “will not be a rule-taker” on issues of regulation and is likely to take a hard line on the issue during the upcoming election campaign, with Brexit-backing voters returning to his party in droves.

David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, has also signalled his intention to strengthen ties between the UK and the EU should Labour, which has a double-digit lead in most opinion polls, form the next government.

Turnout at the 2016 referendum was high at 72 per cent, with over 30 million people across the country heading to polling stations to cast their ballots.

Younger voters were much more likely to vote Remain than older voters, according to polling by Tory peer Lord Michael Ashcroft.

His survey found that the older people were the more likely they were to vote to sever ties with the EU after decades of membership with the bloc.

People aged 45-54 voted 56 per cent for Leave versus 44 per cent for Remain. For people aged 55-64 the corresponding figure was 57 per cent versus 43 per cent; for those aged 65 and over the number was 60 per cent versus 40 per cent.

60 per cent of people aged 65+ voted for Brexit (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
60 per cent of people aged 65+ voted for Brexit (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Meanwhile, an increasing number of people think it was the wrong decision for the UK to leave the bloc.

A poll by the Tony Blair Institute published last year found more than half of voters now believe Brexit was the wrong decision.

Based on a survey of 1,525 adults and carried out at the start of June, the poll found that just over a third (34 per cent) still believe that Brexit was the correct decision.

The referendum result was 53 per cent Leave versus 48 per cent Remain.

The poll, carried out by Deltapoll, also said that 18 per cent of Leave voters now believe that the decision was wrong.

Nearly 80 per cent believe that the UK should have a closer relationship with the EU in the future, with 43 per cent  wanting the UK to rejoin the EU and 13 per cent preferring a return to the single market only.

The poll found just over a fifth of people support a closer relationship with the EU, although not as a member or as part of the single market.