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Brexit: Majority of country now think Britain should remain in the EU, new poll finds

Support for remaining has grown steadily since the summer and jumped three points in December

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Saturday 08 December 2018 21:01 GMT
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A majority of the country now think Britain should remain inside the European Union, according to a new poll released days before the critical Brexit vote in parliament.

The exclusive research for The Independent shows that, as of this month, 52 per cent favour staying in the trading bloc.

The data from pollsters BMG Research reveals support for remaining has grown month by month since the summer, and broke past 50 per cent in December as the complex realities of Brexit were brought home to the country.

The poll also revealed that almost half of people think the withdrawal agreement settled by Theresa May is a “bad deal” for Britain, with around as many saying MPs should reject the deal outright when they take the critical decision on Tuesday.

The BMG Research study lays waste to any hope that a concerted publicity drive, which has seen Ms May and her ministers tour the country to persuade people of its merits, has been a success.

Instead it shines a light on the deep divisions that still exist, with none of the immediate alternative paths beyond Ms May’s plan – a second referendum, a Norway-style relationship or no deal – enjoying majority support.

It came as close May ally Amber Rudd publicly backed the Norway option as her preferred route, should Ms May’s strategy come to naught.

In a further development ex-European Commission president Romano Prodi said Brussels could renegotiate the deal if MPs vote against it, creating the opportunity for Ms May to seek further concessions.

Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd backs Theresa May's Brexit deal because 'it works in the National interest'

When BMG asked some 1,500 respondents, “should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union”, 52 per cent said “remain”, 40 per cent said “leave”, six per cent said they did not know and one per cent refused to say.

The remain option has been in the high 40s most of this year, but from September to October it rose one point and then another point to 49 per cent in November, meaning it rose three points in December to its current level.

When respondents were asked whether they believed the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on the future relations secured by Ms May are a “good deal” or a “bad deal”, 49 per cent chose the latter.

Just over one in ten, 13 per cent, said it was a good deal, while 23 per cent said it was “neither good nor bad” and 15 per cent said they did not know.

When asked whether MPs should back or oppose the deal, 43 per cent said it should be rejected by parliament, 26 per cent said it should be accepted and 31 per cent said they did not know.

Similar ratios appeared when people were asked if the PM could have done better, with 44 per cent saying she could have, 27 per cent saying she could not and 28 per cent saying they did not know.

Some 43 per cent also said Ms May should resign if her strategy fails, though 36 per cent said she should not, and 22 per cent said they did not know.

With the vote widely expected to go against Ms May on Tuesday, speculation has moved on to what alternative options may emerge, with the most talked about being a new referendum, a no-deal Brexit or the UK moving into a Norway-style relationship – a path favoured by some cabinet ministers.

LBC caller wants Brexit even though it'll put her out of business

But the country was split on all three routes. People were against no deal by 44 per cent to 37 per cent, for a new referendum by 46 per cent to 30 per cent and for Norway by 41 per cent to 39 per cent.

A sign of just how difficult it will be to secure any deal that enjoys broad support came from another question, which asked respondents to say what it is that is most important for a Brexit deal to secure.

The equal top answers were “controlling immigration” and “maintaining smooth trading links with the EU” – two things which, to an extent, are mutually exclusive because of the red lines set out by the EU and UK in negotiations.

Ensuring that there is no border erected between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – the matter at the heart of opposition to Ms May’s plan – was rated as the key issue by just six per cent of people.

Ms May is likely to play for time if the vote does go against her next week, and travel to Brussels for a summit of the European Council where she may ask for further concessions to try and make her deal more palatable to MPs.

Despite a string of European figures saying there could be no further talks, ex-commission president Mr Prodi appeared to throw Ms May a lifeline on Saturday. Asked how he expected the commission to respond after the vote, he said: “Negotiate. We must keep free trade between us because it is in the British interests and European interest.”

On Saturday, Ms Rudd hit out at Brexiteers who she said “flounce out quite a lot” instead of trying to get things done, an attack coming after Boris Johnson and David Davis quit the cabinet over Ms May’s deal.

All have leadership ambitions and have been jockeying for position ahead of a potential future contest in the coming weeks.

In an interview, Ms Rudd also took the unusual step of revealing details of a private conversation with the prime minister, even critiquing her leadership style by saying “she is not always forthcoming” about what she wants.

Ms Rudd is seen as a leading candidate from the moderate wing of the party and even said in her interview that she hoped it chooses a “centrist” figure for its next leader, though she said a contest at this point would be “too indulgent”.

Source Note: BMG Research interviewed a representative sample of 1,508 GB adults online between 4 and 7 December. Data are weighted. BMG are members of the British Polling Council and abide by their rules

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