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2.6 million Leave voters have abandoned support for Brexit since referendum, major new study finds

Exclusive: Analysis shows Labour voters driving shift amid public concern over prospect of no deal, in finding likely to raise pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to shift stance

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 04 September 2018 15:36 BST
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2.6 million Leave voters have abandoned support for Brexit since referendum, major new study finds

More than 2.6 million people have abandoned their support for Brexit and now back staying in the EU, a major study has concluded.

If the huge number of Britons who have changed their mind had voted to stay in the EU in 2016, the referendum would have delivered a clear Remain verdict.

The data will add to the debate about whether the country now needs a new referendum, with millions having second thoughts about their Leave vote amid growing fears about Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.

In a key finding that will particularly intensify pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to take a tougher stance against Brexit, the study found the overwhelming majority of those changing minds are Labour voters in seats the party currently holds.

It comes as Conservative divisions over Brexit deepened, with Theresa May attempting to slap down Boris Johnson after he wrote another article attacking her approach.

The Independent has launched its own campaign for a Final Say referendum, with almost three quarters of a million people having signed our petition demanding one so far.

The new study was carried out by data analysis experts Focaldata for pro-EU campaign group Best for Britain. It was based on two YouGov polls that together surveyed more than 15,000 people.

In total, it concluded that 2.6 million Leave voters have switched their support to Remain, while 970,000 have moved the other way – a net gain for the pro-EU side of 1.6 million.

The majority for Leave in 2016 was around 1.3 million, meaning if all those who have now switched their allegiance had acted in accordance with their new view at the ballot box, Remain would have won the vote by a greater margin.

MPs on both sides of the Commons have already come out in support of the idea, but the new data could act as a catalyst for politicians waiting for signs of a shift in public opinion.

Labour MP Owen Smith, who backs the Best for Britain campaign, said: “This new data confirms that Britain is changing its mind about Brexit and Labour voters are leading the change.

“They want to see an end to austerity and they are worried that Brexit will mean years more of cuts to the NHS and other public services.

“If Jeremy Corbyn wants to be Prime Minister and to rebuild those public services he needs to win those voters by delivering a vote on the final deal and a chance for the country change course on Brexit.’

The study found that Labour voters accounted for 1.4 million of the 1.6 million switchers to Remain, significantly outnumbering the 837,000 Tory voters who switched the other way.

The finding that Labour voters are particularly moving away from Brexit is likely to come as a major boost to pro-EU campaigners, who plan to use the party’s annual conference later this month to try to force the Labour leadership to adopt a tougher stance on the issue.

Campaigners believe there would be a further significant shift in opinion among Labour voters if Mr Corbyn changes the party’s official position.

YouGov found that 58 per cent of people who voted for Labour in 2017 said they were concerned about the prospect of no-deal. Fifty-six per cent want another poll on the nature of Brexit, compared to 32 per cent who did not.

A majority of all voters in Labour held-constituencies also back a Final Say referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal, by a margin of 45 per cent to 39 per cent.

Of the 262 Labour-voting constituencies, 161 currently support a new referendum, while a further 55 are expected to switch in the coming months.

It places Mr Corbyn on a collision course with Labour members, voters and constituents if he continues to resist calls for a public vote on the terms of Brexit.

In total, 69 Labour constituencies have moved to Remain, while just three have switched to Leave.

The biggest swing to Remain was the 17.2 per cent seen in the Barnsley Central seat held by Labour’s Dan Jarvis.

Eloise Todd, CEO of Best for Britain, said: ““The country continues to shift away from supporting Brexit, and people want to have the final say on whether we leave Europe or not.

“Most Labour constituencies have majority support for a people’s vote, a clear majority of Labour voters back a people’s vote, and most of the country’s 1.6million people that have shifted support Labour. This research could be a watershed moment in the final say campaign.

“We need the Opposition to step up and give a real alternative to government’s Brexit deal, starting with a people’s vote with an option to stay, lead and thrive in Europe.”

What does a no-deal Brexit mean?

The swing comes amid growing fears about the impact of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Forty-eight per cent of voters said they thought a no-deal Brexit would be bad for Britain, compared to just 13 per cent who thought it would be good, with 21 per cent saying it would make no difference.

And in a finding that raises the pressure on on Ms May secure an agreement with the EU, 37 per cent of Tory voters said they were worried about no-deal, while only 19 per cent said they would be relieved.

The prime minister is facing a growing headache as she attempts to convince Conservative MPs to step in behind her and back the government’s Chequers plan, which has been widely criticised by Tory Brexiteers.

With an agreement needing to be secured by the end of the year, warfare on the Tory benches has fuelled fears of a no-deal outcome.

Best for Britain data has previously found that 341 constituencies would now back Remain, meaning 112 constituencies had switched from Leave to Remain since the 2016 poll.

The data suggests that, if current trends continue, a further 71 are likely to switch in the near future.

Two-thirds of the YouGov polling was conducted before Theresa May announced the details of her Chequers plan, while a third was completed after.

It found women made up almost two-thirds of those people ditching their support for Brexit.

Middle-aged voters are also increasingly switching their support due to fears about the impact of Brexit on the economy and the NHS.

The findings come as Ms May hit back at criticism from Boris Johnson, who attacked her Chequers plan and said it had left Britain “lying flat on the canvas”.

In response, the prime minister’s spokesman said the former foreign secretary had proposed “no new ideas”, adding: “What we need at this time is serious leadership with a serious plan, and that’s exactly what the country has with this prime minister and this Brexit plan.”

Elsewhere, 20 Tory MPs, including former ministers Priti Patel and Iain Duncan Smith, pledged to vote against the Chequers proposals

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