Brexit: Britain does not want long delay, reveals poll on eve of votes

Exclusive: Fewer than one in five want any Brexit delay, with 52 per cent of people saying it should not last longer than six months if necessary 

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Sunday 10 March 2019 01:35 GMT
Countdown to Brexit: How many days left until Britain leaves the EU?

A long delay to Brexit would be unacceptable to a majority of the British public, according to an exclusive poll days before critical votes in the House of Commons.

Some 52 per cent of people do not want a delay to last more than six months, the survey by BMG Research for The Independent indicated.

The data flies in the face of extensions advocated in Brussels, by Remainers and even some Brexiteers. They have talked about pushing back the date of the UK’s departure for a year or more – something supported by fewer than one in five, according to the survey.

The poll also showed that just 17 per cent actually want any extension if Theresa May’s Brexit plan is again rejected as expected this week, with the two most popular alternatives a quick new in or out referendum, or simply leaving with no deal.

British and European officials have been desperately trying to find a compromise acceptable to both sides in negotiations in Brussels, but a breakthrough looks unlikely with little ground being given.

The impasse has made an extension look all the more likely – but the latest poll data, recorded between 4 and 8 March, points to a public deeply fed up with Brexit.

When asked: “If the UK were to seek an extension of Article 50, delaying Brexit, how long do you think that extension should be?”, respondents veered away from a long delay.

Some 17 per cent said less than a month, a further 16 per cent said between one and two months, the next 19 per cent said between three and six months – meaning a majority want no delay to last more than half a year.

Only 9 per cent wanted a delay between seven and nine months and 18 per cent said more than a year would be tolerable. A fifth said they did not know.

Whatever happens in negotiations this weekend, Ms May must on Tuesday put her deal to MPs again, with all signs pointing towards a second defeat – the last one in January saw the agreement beaten by a historic 230 votes.

If MPs reject her deal for a second time and also rule out a no-deal departure as expected, they will then vote on whether to extend the Article 50 negotiating period.

Ms May wants a short extension that would not see the UK taking part in European elections this summer, but a cross-party group of rebels in the Commons had proposed delays of between nine months to a year.

Some Brexiteers have even talked about a long delay of up to a year to give more time to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, and EU leaders have mentioned extending negotiations for two years.

But as well as showing that the public do not want a long delay, the BMG poll shows that any extension to the Brexit saga is unpopular – with just 17 per cent wanting the process to drag on if Ms May’s deal is defeated.

Theresa May on Brexit: without a deal 'we might never leave the EU at all'

Some 29 per cent of people said they would rather have a second referendum, with the options to remain or leave without a deal, than extend the Article 50 period.

Almost as many, 27 per cent, said they would rather simply leave the EU without any deal in place.

There was at least one bright spot for the prime minister in the broad voting intention figures. Despite the uncertainty and apparent chaos around her administration, the Conservatives pulled into the lead over Labour.

Some 31 per cent backed Ms May’s party, compared to 27 per cent supporting Labour and 8 per cent for the Liberal Democrats, with 22 per cent saying they did not know or would prefer not to say.

When people were pushed for an answer and don’t knows excluded, the Tories extended their lead to five points.

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