Poll briefing: Brexit dilemmas

17 04 19

Using new polling carried out for HOPE not hate, Nick Lowles looks at the next phase of the battle over Brexit, and what it means for the main political parties.

The Government and the opposition are currently in talks to solve the Brexit impasse, but given the huge gulf in attitudes between voters of the two main parties, it is hard to see how party leaders can reach an agreement without tearing their parties apart.

There are some basic Brexit realities that those Labour and Conservative politicians huddled around the negotiating table will only be too acutely aware of:

  • the overwhelming majority of Conservative voters want to leave the EU and leave immediately, even if it is without a deal.
  • the overwhelming majority of Labour voters want to Remain in the EU, by a margin of almost two to one would be happy for Parliament to Revoke Article 50, and they want any deal reached to be put to a referendum.

With such polarised views, it would take brave leadership from each side for an agreement to be reached.

Recent polling commissioned by HOPE not hate highlights the chasm between the two parties. If there were another EU Referendum today, 73.3% of 2017 Conservative voters would vote to Leave, whereas 72.5% of 2017 Labour voters would vote to Remain.

On virtually every Brexit issue Conservative and Labour voters are equally divided. Two-thirds of Labour voters (67%) would be opposed to leaving the EU without a deal, while 64% of Conservative voters would support such a move.

Two-thirds of Labour voters want Parliament to vote to stay in the EU, while 71% of Conservatives oppose the idea. Half of Tory voters think leaving the EU without a deal would be good for Britain, with just 24% thinking it would be bad and a similar number thinking it would make no difference. Labour voters, on the other hand, have a diametrically opposed view. Two-thirds of them think leaving the EU without a deal would be bad for Britain, with just 12% thinking it is good.

Three-quarters of Tories have negative reactions on Britain revoking Article 50 and remaining in the EU, while almost 60% of Labour voters see it very positively.

Even deciding how to agree a deal splits voters of the two maikn parties: Labour voters support the idea of a confirmatory referendum on whatever the deal that is agreed, a view opposed by three-quarters of Conservative voters.

With such polarised views it is hard to see how either political party can sell any Brexit deal that goes against the views of its supporters. Conservative voters will find it hard to countenance anything less than a hard ‘no deal’ Brexit now, let alone a softer customs union Brexit or a second referendum.

Meanwhile, a huge swathe of Labour voters will be clearly upset if their party abandons a second referendum and implements what most will consider as a Tory Brexit.

HOPE not hate asked YouGov to run a number of possible snap general election scenarios in which Labour took different Brexit position – and the results were startling:

  • If Labour went into a snap election offering the electorate a second referendum, then it would receive 31.5% of the public vote.
  • If Labour went into an election promising to implement a Brexit deal that includes a customs union, its share of the vote would drop to 20%.

While obviously other factors would come into play in any election, the polling illustrates the strength of feeling amongst Labour voters on Brexit. There would clearly be some electoral consequences if Labour is party to the implementation of a Brexit deal.

This mirrors some earlier polling by HOPE not hate where we tested different the fortunes of the Conservative Party with different Brexit scenarios. Like Labour, their vote would drop substantially if they went into an election offering a version of May’s deal or a customs union deal.

There are further problems for each party about the strategies they take.

There are many Labour MPs who understandably believe that it is important that Labour honours the 2016 Referendum result and implement Brexit, and so they have focused their energies on achieving the softest form of Brexit possible –a customs union with or without single market access.

While a soft Brexit deal might make short-term political sense, it will not be long before voters (and especially Labour Leave voters) begin to vent their anger at the economic consequences of this type of Brexit deal and blame the politicians who enabled it.

Our polling shows that even Leave voters and Labour Leave voters would be unhappy with a soft Brexit deal – largely because they do not consider soft Brexit as being Brexit. Polling we did earlier this year graphically illustrates this. When asked if the UK continuing to follow EU rules and legislation was upholding the Referendum result, 54% of voters said no, with only 16% saying yes and the remaining 30% saying they didn’t know. Even 48% of Labour voters believed that a customs union Brexit would not be honouring the Referendum result, rising to 54% of Labour Leave voters.

This will become a bigger issue as and when the Conservatives get a new leader who both rubbishes a soft Brexit deal and promises to deliver a “true” Brexit.

Conservative Party MPs face a slightly different problem. By opposing May’s deal because they believe it was not the Brexit they want, they risk losing Brexit altogether and in the long run their voters might not forgive them for that.

Brexit is fundamentally changing the political landscape and causing huge upheaval in both political parties. A growing number of voters are already switching allegiances to unambiguously pro- and anti-EU parties. Stemming the exodus will not be far from the minds of the Conservative and Labour politicians as they attempt to find a compromise Brexit deal.


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