“People knew exactly what they were voting for!” OK – I’ve devised a little test – let’s see if it’s true.

“People knew exactly what they were voting for!”

Heard that lately? I am sure you have. If you didn’t catch Nigel Farage chipping in with it on GMB this week, then you will have heard Johnny Mercer MP say it, or Jacob Rees-Mogg or any number of MPs, MEPs, Brexit backers and twitter accounts repeat it. I’ve read it on Facebook, I’ve heard it on LBC and the BBC; I’ve seen it in letters to The Metro and been told it by Brexit backing family members and Brexit backing friends. And yet – two years on from the EU referendum currently the most Googled Brexit questions in Britain are: “what is Brexit” and “when is Brexit?”

When you consider that the governing party itself is currently in open civil war about what sort of Brexit we are going to have and what it will actually mean the idea that “people knew exactly what they were voting for” does seem to be – well – preposterous.

But surely Nigel Farage and that nice Jacob Rees-Mogg aren’t lying. They can’t have just made it up? There must be some basis of truth in the idea that ordinary Britons understood the multifaceted nature of our relationship with the EU and solemnly cast their votes carrying this weight of knowledge and the implications of leaving. I mean wasn’t simply everybody talking about the CU and the WTO for decades prior to June 2016?

My faith in both men is a matter of record on these pages and so to help prove Jacob and Nigel right I’ve devised a little test.

Fifteen fairly basic questions about the EU and our relationship (or possible) future relationship with it; get more than 60% right and you can probably quite rightly claim that you knew what you were voting for in June 2016. less than that and you should probably have stayed home with a nice mug of gin.

Let’s go:

  1. Can you explain in one or two sentences what the Customs Union is – and what part Britain currently plays in it?
  2. What is a common external tariff?
  3. What are WTO rules?
  4. What is the CAP? How does it work?
  5. What proportion of our food is imported from the EU?
  6. What does “the single market” mean?
  7. How much – as a proportion of GDP expenditure – does membership of the EU cost the UK?
  8. What percentage of our trade overall do we conduct with the EU?
  9. True or False – the UK is a member of the Schengen agreement.
  10. Is the ECHR part of the EU? What is the ECHR?
  11. Which body decides on the design and shape of our passports?
  12. What is a Norway style deal?
  13. What is the EEA?
  14. What is EFTA?
  15. Can EU nationals be barred from entering the UK if they have a criminal record?

I’ll be honest. I would probably have failed to get 60% even in 2016 and so should most definitely not have been allowed to vote on something as complex as our membership of the European Union. How did you do?

Answers here


27 thoughts on ““People knew exactly what they were voting for!” OK – I’ve devised a little test – let’s see if it’s true.

  1. Going to risk trying to answer (and no I wasn’t confident in 2016 – in fact I voted Remain partly because I knew I didn’t know how complicated it might be – that and the fact that Leave clearly had no coherent plan).
    Can you explain in one or two sentences what the Customs Union is – and what part Britain currently plays in it? – I think it means we are inside a common customs area so once something has cleared customs at one port of entry it doesn’t need to do so again.
    What is a common external tariff? This refers to tariffs applied to goods entering the Customs Union – it is the same no matter which port of entry the goods come through.
    What are WTO rules? World Trade Organisation rules govern the basics of international trade (set up to replace the General Agreement on tariffs and trade – in the 1990s I think). They aim to prevent discrimination in trade between countries – Most Favoured Nation means you essentially give the same deal to everyone – unless you negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement covering most sectors with specific countries.
    What is the CAP? How does it work? Common Agricultural Policy – it’s complicated – used to pay farmers a support price for producing certain foods – but increasingly pays them for environmental protection.
    What proportion of our food is imported from the EU? We import around 40-60% of our food from the rest of the world – most (60%?) of this from the EU.
    What does “the single market” mean? This means that goods approved for sale in one EU market can be sold in any EU market without further clearance – so goods produced in the EU can move freely across internal EU borders.
    How much – as a percentage of GDP – does membership of the EU cost the UK? Less than 2% – about £120-£150 a person each year.
    What percentage of our trade overall do we conduct with the EU? Around 45% (even allowing for the ‘Rotterdam’ effect).
    True or False – the UK is a member of the Schengen agreement. False
    Is the ECHR part of the EU? What is the ECHR? The European Court of Human Rights in the Hague is not part of the EU (that’s the European Court of Justice).
    Which body decides on the design and shape of our passports? UK government – through the Home Office.
    What is a Norway style deal? Norway is a member of EFTA and the EEA – see below.
    What is the EEA? European Economic Area – an agreement between the 28 EU states and three (out of four) members of EFTA to create a ‘single market’ across all 31 countries for many goods (but not agriculture and fisheries) – excludes Switzerland, which has around 10-12 bilateral agreements with the EU to effectively replicate most of the EEA agreement.
    What is EFTA? European Free Trade Area – Norway, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Iceland.
    Can EU nationals be barred from entering the UK if they have a criminal record? Don’t know – possibly – might depend on the crime.
    How did I do?


  2. There was a national poll on the eve of the Brexit vote. That poll advanced all these questions and received responses that show UK voters knew EXACTLY what they were voting for. 73% replied that they were in favour of leaving. The results were NEVER published until AFTER the vote.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This sounds disconcertingly vague.
      What do you mean “There was a national poll…”?

      Who conducted it? What were the questions? How were the answers gauged?

      Sorry, I’ll just repeat the first bit.

      What the HELL do you mean “There was a national poll”?


  3. Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating! and commented:
    I asked my two daughters and my wife these questions and we had the best laugh ever!
    Daughter #1 who is 22 thought EFTA was something to do with extraterrestrial’s 👽 lol and Daughter #2 who is 27 assumed EFTA was the organisation fighting against the fur trade!
    I’m still laughing at daughter #1 though….


  4. I voted Remain and would not have been able to give a correct answer to many of the questions pre 2016.

    I am much more educated now, and feel confident that I voted for the right option.

    I cannot understand how Leave voters still believe that exiting the EU is right for the UK. It’s almost as though they are too dim-witted to admit to being duped/gullible. They need to know that it’s okay that they were fooled, after all a great deal of time and effort went into procuring the result which the elite wanted. I wish they were strong enough to admit it and let people know they have changed their mind.


  5. I think I might now be able to answer about 5 and a half of these questions, after following Brexit assiduously for two years. Whether I’m right or not is yet another thing. Very confused about the differences between EFTA, EEA and a Norway deal.


  6. Haven’t a clue about most of these! But as a Welshman I know that our best hope is to stay in the EU, Westminster has never properly invested in Wales to the level of support we received from the EU so that’s why I voted remain.


  7. Any conclusions one may want to make based on readers’ answers to the above questions will be helpful if, and only if, the readers are drawn from both groups – those who voted Remain and those who voted Leave.

    Claiming that those who voted Leave did so without knowledge of the above issues is surely only relevant if it can be proven that those who voted Remain possessed an equivalent level of knowledge or ignorance.


    1. No.You’re wrong.

      Voting remain meant “I want the status quo. I may not understand it all in detail, by I want things to continue as they are.”

      The only vote that really needed research and knowledge (backed up with a plan) was the LEAVE vote.


      1. The Referendum question was quite clear. It read: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

        All attempts to speculate about what people did or did not understand, assume or comprehend when they responded to that question may be interesting enough. But such attempts carry no constitutional or democratic mandate.


    2. the remain were voting for the status quo not for something they knew very little about, but I am sure they were equally ignorant.


  8. 1. A customs union is an agreement between countries that they won’t charge customs on goods exported from each other, even if the goods were originally manufactured outside the union. It is difficult for participating countries to raise tarriffs against “third countries”, since goods can be exported into a different customs union member at a lower tarriff then re-exported to the country attempting to raise tarriffs. Accordingly, customs unions maintain a common schedule of tarriffs against third countries.

    3. WTO rules are the trade rules agreed by the more than one hundred states that participate in the World Trade Organisation, as enforced by various mechanisms including the WTO court. They provide for non-discrimination between participating states, and rules generally in favour of lowering tarriffs.

    4. The Common Agricultural Policy is a system of agricultural subsidies whereby taxpayers across the EU subsidise agricultural production (or in the UK, reward mere ownership of agricultural land)

    5. I reckon about a quarter of UK food is imported from the rest of the EU. I have now googled this and the figure for 2015 was actually closer to a third and presumably hasn’t changed too much. These figures are distorted by the Common External Tarriff.

    6. The term “single market” isn’t a legal term, and is what linguists call a “floating signifier” – it means different things to different people. Broadly speaking it means the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital across the European Economic Area. After the referendum, I asked all comers on Reddit’s ukpolitics subreddit what they thought the “single market” meant and they couldn’t agree whether it was the EU or the EEA. Searches for the term “single market” in the Irish press reveal that the term is primarily a UK usage.

    7. It depends what costs you’re referring to. The regulatory burden is very hard to estimate. In budgetary terms, there was a net cost of £8.5bn per annum around 2016. This must be about 1% of GDP or less. The budgetary contributions are changing somewhat year-by-year, though.

    8. Our share of trade with the EU, despite the customs union, has declined from over 50% only very recently. We run a deficit with the EU-27, so the figures for imports and exports differ significantly. About 47%?

    9. The UK is a member of the Schengen Agreement in relation to sharing information about travellers. It does not participate in the more widely-discussed passport-free travel area.

    10. The EU has attempted to accede to the ECHR but failed. Nevertheless, the EU’s courts are attempting to develop a human rights jurisprudence to reconcile the conflicting human rights traditions of the individual member states, and thus are influenced by ECHR case law.

    11. As any veteran of the identity cards battle will know, the main constraint on UK passport design is the ICAO, but its role is frequently misrepresented by the media.

    12. A Norway-style deal involves membership of the EEA, or its equivalent: the acceptance of supranational lawmaking in relation to tradable goods.

    13. The EEA is an arrangement between the EU and the EFTA states; all EU states must accede to the EEA. It is the area over which the four freedoms operate.

    14. The EFTA is a free-trade agreement between Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Membership of EFTA is logically incompatible with membership of the EU’s Customs Union.

    15. In practice, EU states can bar anyone they can lay their hands on. The French disregard EU law in this regard where it is necessary and expedient to do so.

    Please don’t tell me I didn’t know what I was voting for.


  9. The main points are –

    The referendum was supposed to be advisory – I understand that a non-advisory referendum requires a larger percentage to carry a result. With the number of people voting to leave being in the minority, the referendum should never have been acted on.

    The questions were too simplistic being only “in”? or “out”?. People were not given any information about the different options, and how they would affect trade, industry, or the Irish boarder with NI. It is not really possible for the Tory Party to make out that what ever botched scheme they have come up with is “The will of the People”.

    The only way they can find out what the “will of the people is”, precisely, is to have a further referendum so that people can express a clearer view such as –

    1) Remain in the EU,
    2) Leave the EU, but remain in the Customs Union and the Single Market,
    3) Accept the deal the Government can achieve based on its current plan, or,
    4) Leave, even if we have no deal at all.


  10. Well, without looking it up, I can honestly say that I cannot offer a detailed answer to ANY of these questions and I remain a remainer! We should stay in and take our chances on winning the space to negotiate change from the inside!


  11. After a Lot of time going through the Slurry on here, and a lot of Recently perused highly informative Detailed info
    I can honestly say I did not Know Enough! Many will also fall into that Category, on both sides of the Referendum Result. What Matters is that it is now Obvious UK Gov. Is Unable to Negotiate a Result which Will Solve the Need for Exit without huge risk of damage ,Financial Loss, and Massive disruption to Vital functions.
    I like most others Was unaware of the Consequences of leaving, and having little or no real grasp of how
    Immediate, or short term benefits of doing so Will come to fruition, having to rely upon bald claims and counter claims. If UK Gov. Has any Sincerity about its Responsibility, it will curtail the current ‘negotiations’ and wait until They and We, Know truthfully the best way forward, and meantime Improve the EU From within. Otherwise They Will Fall and Us with them.


  12. I voted to remain, don’t think people knew the real implications & we need a new referendum & I’d vote exactly the same again


  13. Thank you an excellent questionnaire. I knew around 70% of the answers. However it does expose the way UK has been alarmingly sucked into such a bad situation. From the seemingly innocuous Common Market in the 70s to this costly and damaging organisation highlights all the reasons for leaving the EU with all its strictures. The task is not a simple one but the benefits to UK will be enormous.


  14. I voted in the way that meant the people making our laws are elected by us.

    Not sure why that is relevant to what EFTA is? I got them all right by the way?


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