Labour would crash to a worse defeat than it suffered under Michael Foot if the party enables Brexit, according to the most extensive survey of voters’ attitudes on the issue conducted since the 2016 referendum.
The YouGov poll of more than 25,000 people shows the party risks losing millions of supporters in two scenarios under which it either votes through some form of compromise deal or fails to order MPs to oppose Brexit.
Conducted over the Christmas break when Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent support for leaving the European Union has come under intense scrutiny and increasing pressure, this massive poll shows Labour share of the vote has already fallen to 34 per cent - six points behind the Conservatives.
Although Labour has pledged to oppose the current Brexit plan, the party’s leader has stated he could yet back a different deal negotiated by this government that completes the UK’s departure from the EU and suggested that Brexit would still go ahead even if he won a snap General Election.
The poll indicates that Labour’s share of the vote would slump another eight points - to 26 per cent – and 16 points behind the Conservatives if its MPs vote with the Tories to bring about Brexit. This would be even worse than the 28 per cent share of the vote of won by Labour in 1983 under Michael Foot, representing its most dismal electoral performance since the 1930s.
Labour would fare no better if it tries to duck the issue by failing to instruct its MPs to oppose a Brexit deal – perhaps giving them a so-called “free vote” – with support rooted at 26 per cent, fully 17 points behind the Conservatives on 43 per cent. Although anti-Brexit parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Greens would get a boost, such a result would mean a huge Tory majority.
Other key findings in the poll confirm previous surveys showing that there is now a clear majority in favour of a People’s Vote and against Brexit. But the margin of victory for staying in the EU rises significantly when people are presented with the specific forms of Brexit that the Government says is available to the UK.
Voters would prefer that they, rather than MPs, are given the final say on Brexit by 53 to 47 per cent – excluding “don’t knows”. A People’s Vote is backed by 75 per cent of Labour voters.
If they are given the chance, people would vote to stay in the EU by an eight-point margin - 54 to 46 per cent. This majority for staying in the EU includes 74 per cent of Labour voters.
- When the choice in a new referendum is between staying in the EU and leaving with no deal on security or trade, the margin of victory for staying in rises to 16 points (58-42 cent).
- When the choice is staying in the EU versus the Government’s proposed Brexit deal, the margin of victory for staying in the EU rises to 26 points (63-37 per cent).
Indeed, the poll offers little comfort to Theresa May ahead of a crucial 10-day period when the fate of her deal will finally be decided by MPs. The public oppose it by a margin of two to one with only 22 per cent of all voters saying they want the Government’s deal. Even among Leave voters the figure is not much higher – just 28 per cent.
The survey shows high levels of pessimism among all voters about the prospect for living standards, the NHS, the economy and young people under Brexit, with merely six per cent of voters now disagreeing with the statement that the whole process has become a mess.
David Lammy, the Labour MP and a leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said:
“This is the largest and most significant poll on Brexit since the 2016 referendum and it should serve as a sobering wake-up call for my party, as well as the Government. Labour members and supporters are overwhelmingly in favour of a People’s Vote with the option to remain in the European Union because Brexit has been exposed as a hard right Tory fantasy that will wreck living standards, the NHS and our young peoples’ future.
“With only a few months until we crash out of the EU, our party is still sitting on the fence. On the biggest issue of our generation, Labour risks complicity in the Conservative Party’s historic mistake. Although we are in opposition, due to the Government's weakness, we have the opportunity to save our country from catastrophe and so we should seize it with both hands. If we do not, this poll shows it is Labour, not the Tories, that will be punished at the ballot box.
“We not only risk fatally harming our chances at the next election, we will betray millions of voters – particularly the young – who saw us as a beacon of hope and put their trust in us only 18 months ago. The time for prevarication and pussyfooting around on Brexit has long passed - we must now give voice to the clear majority of people who are demanding a final say.”
Peter Kellner, a past president of YouGov and one of Britain’s leading pollsters, said:
“If Labour is seen to facilitate Brexit in any form, YouGov’s results indicate that the party would be deserted by millions of Remain voters – without gaining any extra support from Leave voters. Thus Labour risks losing Remain seats where the party did well in 2017 – most famously Kensington and Canterbury, but also a host of other constituencies in and around London, and others with a large student population – while failing to recoup any of the ground it lost in the party’s traditional heartlands in the North and Midlands.”
“In 2016, Labour voters divided two-to-one in favour of staying in the EU. Today, Labour voters divide 83-17 per cent if the choice is Remain versus the Withdrawal Agreement, and 80-20 per cent in a Remain-No Deal contest. There are huge and obvious risks in being seen to thwart such huge majorities – either by resisting a referendum or, if one is held, failing to campaign against Brexit.”
Notes to editors
- YouGov conducted the fieldwork for this poll for the People’s Vote campaign between December 21, 2108 and January 4, 2019 among 25,537 adults.
- The full fieldwork can be found here: https://bit.ly/2s9hzCn