Can Brexit be reversed?

Voters in region critical to Tory election victory swing against Brexit, poll claims

‘This poll is the first significant test of public opinion in the southwest on Brexit since the referendum and shows that attitudes are beginning to shift’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 09 August 2018 07:47

The English region that could be crucial to a Conservative election victory and backed leaving the European Union in 2016 has swung against Brexit, according to a new poll.

A YouGov survey shows people in the southwest now oppose the UK’s departure amid the chaos of the negotiations and the mounting prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

The poll – commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign for a fresh referendum – adds that a greater proportion of people want another chance to vote on Brexit, by a margin of 42 per cent to 35 per cent.

The Independent has launched its own Final Say campaign, pushing for the British people to have a referendum on the final deal eventually proposed by Theresa May, with more than half a million people having signed the petition.

It also comes as the president of the Royal Society and Nobel prize-winning biologist Venki Ramakrishnan warned that a no-deal Brexit would be devastating for the UK’s science industry.

According to the YouGov poll, when respondents were asked how they would vote if a fresh referendum were to be held, 46 per cent said they would Remain a member of the EU, 43 per cent opted for Leave, 6 per cent replied “don’t know” and a further 6 per cent said they would not vote.

When pollsters excluded the don’t knows and would not vote, 51 per cent said they would back Remain while 49 per cent believed Leave would be the best option.

At the 2016 referendum around 53 per cent of voters in the southwest cast their ballot for Leave while 47 opted Remain.

The region is particularly crucial for the Conservatives as it often cited as being crucial to David Cameron’s surprise majority victory at the 2015 general election as his party swept away seats from the Liberal Democrats, who lost all of their 15 MPs.

And at the 2017 snap election Theresa May’s party held 47 seats in the southwest while losing four – three to Labour and one to the Liberal Democrats.

Peter Kellner, the former YouGov president, said the poll is the first “significant test” of public opinion in the region on Brexit since the 2016 referendum and demonstrates that “attitudes are beginning to shift”.

The poll also adds that 42 per cent of people would support a fresh public vote when negotiations with the bloc are completed and 35 per cent said they would oppose it.

But if the prime minister’s negotiations in Brussels break down and the UK has to choose between staying in the EU or leaving without a deal, 47 per cent said they would prefer a fresh public vote while 27 per cent opted to hand the decision to MPs.

“Voters in the southwest support a People’s Vote on any final Brexit deal negotiated by the government by a clear margin which rises much higher with the prospect of leaving the EU without any deal,” Mr Kellner added.

The findings come ahead of a rally – organised by the People’s Vote campaign – in Bristol this weekend, with speakers including the senior Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston and the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable.

Mr Kellner continued: “Opinion is still very polarised with big differences between the views of young people and older voters but it is interesting to see how many Leave supporters have concerns about the possible impact of Brexit on their region.

“And the findings will put pressure on political parties as well. Labour voters in the southwest are at odds with their party’s official pro-Brexit position and this poll will make uncomfortable reading for local MPs who are toeing the party line.”

The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who represents Exeter, said: “Whether they voted Leave or Remain in the referendum, members of the public from all walks of life in the southwest now want to take back control of the Brexit process from Westminster and demand a People’s Vote.”

He added: “The botched Brexit being dumped on the southwest’s doorstep by politicians in Westminster will be a disaster for this brilliant region, its economy, its culture and its young people.

“My own party is in danger of letting down its voters and young people in particular. I urge my colleagues who do not yet support a People’s Vote to study this poll and ask themselves whether they came into politics to stand against the views of our supporters or do they want to join us in the southwest in demanding our democratic voice is heard on Brexit.”

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