The UK was supposed to have left the European Union by now. In large part, that is why voters are going to the polls on Dec. 12 to elect a new government to push Brexit through, alter the divorce deal, or cancel the whole thing entirely.
There are other issues that voters care about, of course, but Brexit looms large over this election. Consider the political parties’ election manifestos. Although they diverge in length, format, and plans for issues like the NHS, housing, and immigration, they all agree on one thing: Brexit matters. Three of the parties—the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and UK Independence Party (UKIP)—even put Brexit in the title of their manifestos: the Tories’ “Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s potential” (pdf), the Lib Dems’ “Stop Brexit, Build a Brighter Future” (pdf), and UKIP’s “Manifesto for Brexit and Beyond” (pdf).
The party that mentions Brexit the most in its manifesto, however, is the Scottish National Party (SNP). In Scotland, which overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has backed a second referendum on Brexit. For a taste of how Brexit is addressed in the SNP’s manifesto, here’s the first line of the party’s “key pledges”: “The chaos of Brexit has exposed just how dysfunctional Westminster really is.”
Some caveats about our analysis. The chart only reflects the number of times the word Brexit appeared within a headline or text, and not a repeated page header, photo caption, or table of contents. When the title of a chapter included the word Brexit and was repeated multiple times (as was the case with the Labour and Lib Dem manifestos), we only counted it once. We didn’t measure mentions of other Brexit-related words, such as “Remain,” “Leave,” or “referendum.” And the Brexit Party didn’t release a manifesto per se, but a slim volume it dubbed a “contract with the people.”
For all of the focus on Brexit’s effects in Northern Ireland, the parties there don’t mention in much in their manifestos, although this is partly because their documents are relatively short. The pro-Brexit DUP, which supported Theresa May’s Conservative government but soured on the coalition when Johnson took over, mentions the B-word six times in its 28-page manifesto. Sinn Fein, an Irish republican party, opposes Brexit but only mentioned it four times in its 18-page manifesto, calling it “disastrous” and a “crisis.”
An equally interesting measure of Brexit-mindedness is the number of times it is mentioned in a foreword or introduction signed by the party’s leader, which outlines his or her vision for the election. Johnson uses it nine times in his introduction, repeating the phrase “get Brexit done” eight times. The SNP’s Sturgeon cites it four times in her opening statement. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose personal opinion on Brexit has been the cause of much controversy, only mentions it three times in his introduction.
For voters, Brexit is the single biggest issue facing the UK, and has been since the country opted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum. Two-thirds of voters told YouGov in its latest bi-monthly poll that Brexit is the most important issue facing Britain today, a number that has remained remarkably steady over the past two years.