‘Workington man’ would abandon Conservatives if transition period extended
People living in the Red Wall seats of the Midlands and the North that fell to the Conservatives in the 2019 election have strongly backed the Government’s decision to rule out any extension of the end-of-year deadline for Britain to complete its exit from the European Union, according to a new opinion poll.
By 51 per cent to 42 per cent, a clear majority of the public in these battleground seats believe that the Covid-19 crisis should not be used as a pretext for delaying Brexit once the transition period for finalising the terms of departure closes on December 31 this year.
The insistence on no delay is even stronger among “Switchers”, who voted Labour in 2017 but switched to the Conservatives in 2019, largely because they rallied to Boris Johnson’s battle cry of “Get Brexit Done”.
By 56 per cent to 43 per cent, this pivotal electoral group want Brexit on time or even sooner, a figure that leaps to a 73 per cent to 23 per cent majority among “Consistents”, people who voted Conservative in Red Wall seats in 2017 and 2019.
The findings show that the decision by Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, on Friday formally to inform the EU that Britain would not be seeking an extension – in defiance of pro-Remain calls for more time for talks – enjoys powerful public support in critical battleground seats.
The survey of adults living in 34 Red Wall seats carried out by Savanta for the Centre for Brexit Policy (CBP) is also a stark warning to Tory ministers and MPs that any future softening of the Government’s position would have damaging electoral consequences.
Mr Gove confirmed what ministers have been saying for months – that they would not consider extending the transition period. But opponents, such as the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, have pressed for a delay of up to two years, arguing that the UK cannot cope at the same time with the twin challenges of recovery from the pandemic and finalising an EU exit in six months. Pressure could again mount on the Government for a U-Turn in the autumn when the economic ravages of the lockdown become fully apparent.
The poll is part of a CBP report that insists that the pandemic is no justification for extending the transition period (TP).
The report, Do Not Delay Brexit: The View from the Red Wall, declares: “Coronavirus is not a reason for extending the TP. Coronavirus is a reason for completing our exit, with or without a free trade agreement (FTA), no later than the date enshrined in UK law – 31 December 2020.”
It summarises the reasons for no delay as:
- Red Wall voters underpin the democratic mandate to leave on time as expressed repeatedly over the past four years
- Leaving as scheduled on December 312020 is essential to recovering from Covid-19 and delivering the Government’s pledge of ‘levelling up’ regional differences
- Any extension will lead to huge costs
The report goes on to argue that by leaving on time the UK will secure the freedom of manoeuvre essential for taking the radical and unorthodox steps that may be needed to get the economy back on its feet free from Interference from Brussels.
It also points out that a prompt departure will enable the UK to strike lucrative trade deals with non-EU countries such as the US, give British business certainty about future arrangements without the crippling dithering of recent years, and ratchet up pressure on the cash-strapped EU, already facing a potential Eurozone crisis, to do a free trade deal with the UK.
The report highlights recent previous research putting the cost of a two-year extension at £380 billion, which could easily lead to no Brexit at a cost to the country of a staggering £4.5 trillion.
The survey finds that a Brexit delay would make a significant number of Red Wall constituents less favourably disposed towards the Conservatives and less likely to vote for them in a future election.
By a margin of 30 per cent to 25 per cent they say they would view the Conservatives less favourably if there were a delay. And by 26 per cent to 18 per cent, they would be less likely to vote Conservative in a future election.
Critically, 40 per cent of 2019 Conservatives say they would view their party less favourably if there was an extension, as opposed to 24 per cent saying more favourably. Switchers are also inclined to punish the Tories if they break their manifesto commitment, saying by a margin of 35 per cent to 26 per cent that they would be less likely to vote for them.
The poll also finds by 45 per cent to 44 per cent Red Wall people believe that sticking with the current timetable for departure from the EU or leaving before the end of 2020 will help the UK recover economically from the Covid-19 crisis. This figure rises to a decisive 53 per cent to 38 per cent among 2019 Switchers.
The survey uncovers a remarkable degree of trepidation about the practical impact of the UK government deferring Brexit.
Overwhelming majorities of the Red Wall electorate believe that the country would pay a heavy price for a delay.
- 50 per cent thought the cost of living would worsen compared to 15 per cent who thought it would get better (35 per cent worse if Brexit delayed)
- 48 per cent thought that the price of food would worsen, compared to only 15 per cent who thought it would get better (33 per cent worse if Brexit delayed)
- 45 per cent thought the level of taxes would worsen, relative to 10 per cent who thought it would get better (35 per cent worse if Brexit delayed)
- 40 per cent thought that the price of non-food consumer goods would worsen, versus 17 per cent who thought it would get better (23 per cent worse if Brexit delayed)
- 39 per cent thought the amount of jobs available would worsen, compared to 23 per cent who thought it would get better (16 per cent worse if Brexit delayed)
- 34 per cent thought the number of people coming to the UK to live and work would worsen, relative to 23 per cent who thought it would get better (11 per cent worse if Brexit delayed)
CBP Chairman Owen Paterson MP said:
“This polling is incredibly clear. The government must deliver upon the mandate which it was given in 2019 – to leave the European Union on time and not to extend the transition period beyond December 2020. We must honour the trust that voters placed in our party, many of whom had never previously voted Conservative.”
Labour MP Graham Stringer, a former minister and a director of the CBP said:
“It has been four long years since the British people voted in the EU referendum and finally, the country nears the end of the negotiation saga and people can start to enjoy the benefits of Brexit.
“The main proponents of extending the transition period are the same people who ran the failed Remain campaign in 2016 and the failed second referendum campaign. They have absolutely no interest in extending the transition period by one or two years. They have weaponised the Coronavirus crisis to try to reverse Brexit.
“Sticking to the current timetable of transition is the right thing to do for our nation.”
Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,093 UK adults aged 18+ online between 2 and 8 June 2020. Those adults were from the following UK parliamentary constituencies, commonly referred to as the Red Wall: Ashfield, Barrow and Furness, Bassetlaw, Birmingham Northfield, Bishop Auckland, Blackpool South, Blyth Valley, Bolsover, Bolton North East, Burnley, Bury South, Colne Valley, Darlington, Don Valley, Dudley North, Gedling, Great Grimsby, Heywood and Middleton, Hyndburn, Leigh, Newcastle-under-Lyme, North West Durham, Penistone and Stocksbridge, Redcar, Rother Valley, Scunthorpe, Sedgefield, Stoke-on-Trent Central, Stoke-on-Trent North, Wakefield, West Bromwich East, West Bromwich West, Wolverhampton North East, Workington. Data were weighted to be representative of the local population by age, gender, region and 2019 vote. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
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Click here to read the report in full.