A GQRR survey finds no clear majority for any of the suggested questions and only a paper-thin margin for Remain if another in-out referendum were called.
BIRMINGHAM, England — For the growing numbers of people in the U.K. calling for a second referendum to reverse Brexit, public opinion carries a warning: Careful what you wish for.
Once considered a remote prospect, support has increased for a second referendum over recent months, as opinion polls show a small but significant increase in pessimism surrounding the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union.
With Prime Minister Theresa May facing an uphill struggle to strike a Brexit deal that can win majority support in the U.K. parliament, campaigners want a second vote to be held if MPs reject whatever deal she strikes with Brussels. The opposition Labour Party has said it would support such an option if May doesn’t call an election first.
But uncertainty remains over the terms of any second referendum and the question that would be put to the public, as a new poll by the U.S. campaign strategy firm GQR Research shared with POLITICO shows the outcome remains too close to call.
Asked to choose between accepting whatever Brexit deal the prime minister is able to negotiate or remaining in the EU — the referendum question favored by the People’s Vote campaign — respondents backed Remain by just 40 percent to 39 percent, with the rest undecided, the poll suggests. Faced with a choice between May’s deal and no deal, those surveyed backed the prime minister by 35 percent to 33 percent, but with nearly a third undecided.
The paper-thin lead for Remain in an in-out referendum scenario, and the popularity of a no-deal outcome when it is an option on the ballot paper, is likely to give pause to pro-EU campaigners pushing for a second referendum.
The only referendum scenario where the public has a clear preference would be a vote on whether to accept May’s deal or send the government back to the Brussels negotiating table. In this scenario, voters prefer to give the prime minister more time to renegotiate by 48 percent to 22 percent, with the remainder unsure.
Notably, this is the referendum scenario backed by Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, who both said at last week’s Labour conference in Liverpool that a second referendum should not reopen the question of the U.K.’s EU membership. They were contradicted by Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, who said “nobody is ruling out Remain” as an option in the event that Labour pushes for a second referendum. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn did not explicitly back either side, but insisted “all options are on the table.”
As split as ever
Whatever path the country takes in the event MPs reject May’s deal, all will be divisive, the GQRR poll suggests.
“In the event that it does come to a referendum campaign, Remain has the narrowest possible margin over leaving with a Theresa May-negotiated deal, which just goes to show that it would be another very tight campaign,” said Peter McLeod, vice president of GQR Research.
“Three months before the 2016 referendum, our polling showed Remain had a slight lead, but Leave had the stronger arguments. In a repeat, Remain campaigners would have their work cut out to neutralize Leave’s arguments about immigration and sovereignty, which ultimately tipped the balance in 2016.”
According to the survey of 1,477 adults, carried out between September 24 and 26, giving May more time to negotiate would have the support of 42 percent of voters, but would be opposed by 38 percent, with the remainder unsure. But May’s resignation would be equally contentious, with 38 percent approving such a course of action, 35 percent against, and the remainder unsure.
Likewise, a fresh general election — the outcome favored above all by the Labour Party — commands only 40 percent support, with 38 percent opposed, while the most popular format for a second referendum — an in-out vote — has 43 percent public support but is opposed by 40 percent.
“As with everything Brexit, the question of what to do if the Withdrawal Agreement is voted down is incredibly divisive,” said McLeod. “You can see why Labour’s position is first to call for a general election, and a referendum otherwise: That’s the order of preference among their voters.”
Respondents split along Leave-Remain lines on the question of a second referendum, especially over an in-out referendum, which has 71 percent support among Remainers but is opposed by 72 percent of Leavers.
However, on the fate of the prime minister, both the Leave and Remain camps are split internally. Forty percent of Leavers would approve of her resignation if her Brexit deal is rejected, as would 40 percent of Remainers. But another 43 percent of Remainers would approve of the prime minister being given more time to negotiate, as would 43 percent of Leave voters.
The survey figures appear to indicate the extent to which May, despite angering both wings of her party, has come to be seen as a compromise figure by many Leave and Remain voters.
Overall, anti-Brexit sentiment has gradually risen since the same time last year, the poll shows. Then, 46 percent said they are hopeful about the prospects for Brexit, while 47 percent said they are worried. Now, 42 percent say they are hopeful and 53 percent express worry. Nevertheless, there remains (45 percent to 40 percent) support for the idea that the U.K. should leave the EU regardless of the deal of the table.
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