AS 2022 comes to a close, poll after poll is saying the same thing: the UK public is turning against Brexit in record numbers.

But while that is nothing new – headlines have been proclaiming the same thing since the summer – what is less clear is why.

After years of strife and self-inflicted crises from the UK Government, why was 2022 the year which saw the public switch off Brexit?

The National spoke to British Polling Council president Professor John Curtice, UK in a Changing Europe director Professor Anand Menon, and SNP MP Philippa Whitford to try and find out.

What are the polls about Brexit saying?

There are a few different polls on the UK’s attitude to Brexit, but they’re all essentially showing the same thing: record levels of opposition to the idea.

UK in a Changing Europe’s Brexit tracker, run in conjunction with Redfield and Wilton Strategies, asks people if they support joining the EU or remaining outside it. Since the start of 2022, it has recorded a 12-point swing in favour of rejoin.

The National:

YouGov tracks whether Brits think the UK was right or wrong to leave the European bloc. In November, it found 56% of people thought Brexit was a mistake, against 32% who did not. This represented a record high gap, which has been steadily widening since mid 2021.

And Ipsos asks people if they think Brexit has had a positive or negative impact on the UK. In December, it also found record results against the move. “Current net score positive of -30 and last month's -29 [are] the worst registered since we started tracking,” the polling firm’s Keiran Pedley wrote on Twitter.

Why has Brexit support dropped off in 2022?

1: A failing Westminster government

“The shambles, the absolute shambles, the mess, the corruption, the VIP lane cronyism, the contracts for pals instead of expert companies, all this stuff, Westminster has very much lost credibility,” SNP MP Philippa Whitford says.

“Obviously one of the figureheads for Brexit was Boris Johnson, and the whole 2019 [General Election] campaign fought on ‘Get Brexit Done’. The Partygate stuff, Chris Pincher, the vote of no confidence, him having to step down, the figurehead who had been pushing Brexit became undermined and discredited and then out.

“Those voices from Boris Johnson to Michael Gove, you’ve got those big names of Brexit who have lost all credibility. I think that is definitely part of it.”

The National: Aside from 'Get Brexit Done', levelling up was a key promise made by the Conservative party at the last general election.

The idea that support for Brexit has declined because of the failing Westminster government is also floated by Professor Curtice and Professor Menon. However, they both caution, this can be difficult to prove.

“We don’t know whether it’s because the government is doing Brexit and the government is very unpopular so this is simply bundled into a sense that the government’s rubbish,” Menon says. “We can speculate and guess but I can’t give you more than hunches.”

Curtice is slightly more inclined to point the finger at the “collapsing Tory government” as one of the facilitating conditions for the decline in Brexit support, but stresses that it is unlikely to be “simply" a consequence of that one single factor.

“It may be that because fewer people now believe in the Tories, fewer people believe in the project that the Tories achieved,” the polling guru says.

2: Immigration

Ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum, Whitford says, the issue of immigration “came right up to be almost the number one concern”. Nigel Farage’s UKIP played on the topic, claiming that Turkey would join the EU by 2020 and as many as 15 million people would use their newfound freedom of movement to leave the country.

But while Brexit was touted as a way to give the UK control of its own borders, the opposite seems to have happened. In 2019, around 1800 people attempted to cross the Channel in small boats. After Brexit, this has skyrocketed. In 2020, 8500 made the crossing. In 2021, 28,500 did so. For 2022, the number is 45,000.

The National: Migrant Channel crossing incidents

The UK Government has struggled to get a grip on the snowballing crisis, which Whitford suggests may be due to the frostier post-Brexit relations with France.

And it is not only the Channel, but legal migration as well. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that around 504,000 more people moved to the UK than left in the year ending June 2022, up a massive 331,000 on the previous year.

“If you voted for Brexit because you thought it was going to reduce immigration, you’re probably somewhat disappointed at the moment,” Professor Curtice says.

3: Voter replacement

“A significant proportion of the new data is simply down to the fact that Brexiteers are dying and being replaced in the electorate by younger people who are pro-Remain,” Professor Anand Menon, a professor of European politics, told The National.

“It’s not necessarily a wholescale changing of minds, it is a changing of the electorate,” he says.

Curtice said that “demographics have been moving against Brexit for the last seven years”.

READ MORE: Lesley Riddoch: Brexit day of shame for Britain can be one of pride for Scots

He went on: “Amongst those who didn’t vote, including those who were too young to vote, then you are looking at at least two-to-one in favour of rejoining.”

Menon pointed to an article published by UK in a Changing Europe, the research project he directs, asking if support for Brexit would “become extinct”.

In it, the authors argue that “about 35% of the aggregate decline in support for Brexit since 2016 is due to voter replacement”. While this is significant, it does not explain the entire swing against leaving the EU.

4: Brexit impacts

“Around the time that the absence of lorry drivers, the absence of food in the supermarkets, the petrol shortage, the story about the pigs in the abattoirs, it’s around that time that you see [Brexit support’ begin to move back towards wanting to rejoin, and that trend has continued.”

John Curtice points to a litany of headline-making negative Brexit impacts which have slowly but surely eroded Leave voters’ faith in the project.

READ MORE: New report exposes extreme damage Brexit has wreaked on UK trade

Professor Menon also noted that there are “some incipient signs that some Leave voters are starting to recognise that Brexit brings with it negative economic consequences”.

But, Curtice says: “There are more Leave voters saying they would vote differently than there are Remain voters, but the gap’s not enormous. Most people have still not changed their minds, but there’s a bit more regret amongst the Leave side.”

“Trade is down, costs are up, friction is up,” the SNP MP Whitford added. “I think chip by chip there’s been more of a realisation of the negative aspects of Brexit, and nobody’s yet been able to come up with a positive.”

5: The stagnating economy and cost of living crisis

Professor Curtice says that one thing that is “certainly very clear” from polling is that “although we were never that optimistic about the economic consequences of Brexit, we are more pessimistic now”.

“It’s become very difficult, whatever the rights and wrongs, to argue Brexit is an economically successful project given the circumstances in which the British economy finds itself,” he added.

And Whitford says that the cost of living crisis, which really started to bite in the summer with people looking ahead to a massive increase in energy costs, has also played a role.

She linked it to the “paralysis” in government that lasted from Boris Johnson’s ousting in July to his eventual replacement with Liz Truss in September.

So what has caused the decline in support for Brexit?

An underperforming UK economy, hit with inflation, strike action and poor growth has left millions struggling to pay the bills. Immigration – a key sticking point for many Tory-voting Brexiteers – has only climbed higher since the referendum. And younger voters are much more likely to be pro-EU than their grandparents were, let alone supportive of a collapsing Conservative government.

Professor John Curtice summed up why Brexit support has hit record lows: “It’s demographics and the economy together with – although this is more difficult to prove – the declining credibility of the author of Brexit, the Conservative Party.”