Brexit: Boost for Corbyn as Labour voters in party's heartlands back Final Say referendum

Two-thirds of Labour supporters in Leave areas want fresh public poll amid widespread support for remaining in EU, poll finds

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Saturday 02 March 2019 23:13 GMT
Labour will table its own bid for second Brexit referendum within a fortnight says McDonnell

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Louise Thomas

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Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to support a fresh Brexit referendum enjoys the overwhelming backing of Labour voters in Leave-voting areas, new research has found.

Only 21 per cent of those in the north and the midlands who voted Labour at the last election said they opposed the dramatic policy shift – a figure dwarfed by the 66 per cent in favour.

In a further boost for Mr Corbyn, 35 per cent said it made them feel more favourable towards Labour, compared with just 14 per cent who said it made them feel less positive.

Peter Kellner, former president of YouGov, said the survey scotched “the myth” that the Labour leader would pay a heavy price for the move, pointing out that Labour voters in Leave areas now back Remain by a margin of more than three to one.

If a new referendum is held, 69 per cent would back Remain rather than leaving with the deal Theresa May has negotiated – a figure rising to 72 per cent if the alternative was a no-deal Brexit.

The YouGov poll for the People’s Vote campaign surveyed Labour voters in the northeast, northwest, Yorkshire and Humber, East Midlands and West Midlands.

The findings will bolster efforts by pro-referendum Labour MPs to persuade their colleagues to deliver the crucial Commons votes that would make a second referendum a reality.

Dozens of MPs who are pro-EU but represent Leave areas fear a backlash from being viewed as attempting to overturn the 2016 result, with many having vowed to vote against moves for another public poll.

But Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, where more than 60 per cent of people voted for Leave, said: “This poll shows why Jeremy Corbyn has done the right thing by our country and our party to follow through and implement Labour’s Brexit policy which was agreed at our party conference last year.

“Far from suffering in our heartlands if we back a people’s vote, we would have been badly damaged if we had not.”

Ms Phillipson said the survey revealed voters’ “common sense” and debunked what she said was a media stereotype of people in northern areas as “caricatures and all the same”.

Labour is expected to table an amendment backing a fresh public vote when Theresa May puts her revised Brexit deal in front of MPs, which she has vowed to do by 12 March.

Two of the party’s backbenchers, Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, are also working on a motion that would see MPs agree to support Ms May’s plan providing the prime minister agrees to put it to a public vote.

The Labour leadership is understood to have concerns about the Kyle-Wilson text in its current form because it would involve voting for Ms May’s deal, which Labour opposes. Efforts are under way to redraft the motion to find a form of words that MPs from across the party can support.

But writing for The Independent, two of the three Labour MP representatives on the party’s National Executive Committee said it was “compatible with Labour Party policy”.

Margaret Beckett, a former deputy Labour leader, and George Howarth said the plan “is the most credible way forward” and “offers a sensible compromise”.

Mr Corbyn is facing a battle to convince many of his MPs to back Labour’s new policy, with dozens in Leave-supporting areas threatening to rebel and vote against any second referendum.

His efforts are likely to be boosted by the new poll, which found that Labour voters in northern and midlands seats want another referendum so they can vote against Ms May’s proposed Brexit deal.

Fifty-four per cent are opposed to the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement, compared to just 14 per cent who support it. Fifty-two per cent say they want their MP to vote against the plan when it comes back before parliament.

If a referendum were held on the deal, 16 per cent say they would vote to leave the EU on the terms of Ms May’s plan, while 69 per cent would want to remain in the EU.

Support for a fresh public poll also reflects concerns about the impact of EU withdrawal, and particularly a no-deal Brexit, the survey found.

Seventy-five per cent of Labour voters said they would feel either “concerned” or “scared” if Britain left the EU without a withdrawal agreement.

No-deal would not be on the ballot in second referendum backed by Labour, says Keir Starmer

They are almost as pessimistic about the consequences of EU exit even if a deal is agreed.

Sixty-nine per cent thought Brexit would damage the economy, 59 per cent said the NHS would get worse and 52 per cent thought taxes will rise. Fifty-eight per cent said leaving the bloc would result in a worse standard of living for them and their family, while 64 per cent thought it would make the next generation worse off than the current one.

Mr Corbyn will hope that his pivot to support a fresh referendum will increase his party’s performance in the polls. Worryingly for the Labour leader, the YouGov survey found that only 58 per cent of people who backed his party at the 2017 election say they would definitely do so next time around – equating to just 2,830 of the 5,000 voters polled.

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