LONDON - A majority of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party members oppose her Brexit deal with the European Union, according to a survey published Friday.
With less than three months until Britain leaves the bloc, May has yet to win parliament’s backing for her deal, and the survey may dent hopes that pressure from local members over Christmas might persuade Conservative lawmakers to support it.
May postponed a planned December vote on her deal in parliament after admitting it would be defeated and is seeking further assurances from EU leaders ahead of a vote now set for the week beginning Jan. 14.
The survey of 1,215 Conservative Party members found 59 percent opposed May’s deal, with 38 percent in favor.
More than half of the members questioned said they did not believe it respected the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Asked how they would vote if another referendum were held to choose between May’s deal or leaving without a deal, just 29 percent said they would pick May’s agreement, compared to 64 percent who would opt for no deal.
The survey was conducted Dec. 17-22 by YouGov for the Party Members Project, a three-year study of membership of the six largest British parties funded by a non-departmental public body, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
Local party members
“Grassroots Tories are even less impressed than Tory Members of Parliament (MPs),” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, who helps run the Party Members project.
“If some of those MPs can be persuaded to back the prime minister’s deal, it won’t be because they’ve come under pressure to do so from their local party members over the Christmas break,” he added.
EU and Irish backstop
May is seeking assurances from the EU over the so-called Irish backstop, an insurance policy to avoid a hard border between the British province and EU-member Ireland, which remains the main obstacle to securing the backing of parliament.
The backstop has cost her the support of dozens of her own lawmakers and the small Northern Irish party that props up her minority government, with critics fearing it could leave Britain indefinitely trapped in the EU’s customs union.
Only 11 percent of Conservative members thought the backstop made sense and should be part of the Brexit deal. Although 23 percent thought it was a bad idea but a price worth paying to secure a deal, 40 percent said Britain should reject any deal that included the backstop.
The government has said it is stepping up planning for a no-deal Brexit, which Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said Thursday was a more likely outcome if parliament rejects May’s deal.
Business leaders have warned a no-deal Brexit would cause huge disruption, clogging up ports with additional border checks and dislocating supply chains in Europe and beyond.
Asked about warnings over the risks of no-deal disruption, including potential food and medicine shortages, 76 percent of Conservative members said they were “exaggerated or invented.”