Will expected Brexit delay help or hinder the PM?

The inevitability of a delay in Brexit has finally hit home with the British public. For the first time, all sides now believe that Britain won’t leave the EU this month.

The last great set back to Brexit was in mid-January, when the prime minister ‘s deal suffered an historic defeat. In our poll that went into field immediately after, we found that 37% thought that a ‘no deal’ exit was the most likely outcome, while 29% thought Britain wouldn’t leave. In the weeks that followed the proportion believing ‘no deal’ was most the most likely outcome increased to almost two in five (39%).

The interesting finding here is that each side initially thought May’s Common defeat would result in their preferred outcome becoming more likely. Almost half (48%) of Leavers thought the UK would most likely leave with ‘no deal’ in March, while 40% of Remainers thought that we wouldn’t actually leave in March.

For the past few weeks, as the clock was running down, Remainers slowly lost their faith that Brexit would be delayed or reversed. Until last week.

The widespread belief that Brexit will now simply have to be delayed has seeped through, and this time both sides of the divide have relatively similar expectations for what will happen at the end of this month – and the answer is nothing.

According to our latest poll, 45% of Remainers now believe that we won’t leave this month, while only 20% think we’ll crash out without a deal. Similarly, 35% of Leavers think the UK will still be in the European Union at the beginning of April, while only 27% think we’ll leave on a ‘no deal’ basis.

Ultimately, for the first time all sides are now believe that an alternative scenario to ‘no deal’ is gaining political momentum. 

To some extent this benefits the prime minister. Only 38% of Tory Leavers who still think they’ll get ‘no deal’ want their MPs to back the prime minister’s deal. But Tory Leavers who fear that Brexit won’t happen in March now want their MPs to back the deal (50% vs 31% who still want their MPs to reject the deal).

In short, within Theresa May’s own ranks the threat of delay or no Brexit edges everyone a little further towards her deal. This is despite hardly anyone actually changing their mind on whether or not it’s a good deal (NB: they still think it’s a bad deal).

However, one less helpful consequence is the effect it will also have on the other side. Two thirds (67%) of Labour Remainers who think Brexit can be avoided or delayed want their MPs to reject the deal. In short, if we’re not going to crash out, why not have a stab at stopping it altogether. Many of this group are overwhelming pro a delay to Brexit and holding a public vote, primarily so they can vote to Remain.

Yes, believe it or not, this general consensus that Brexit is no longer on track results in even further division. It frightens one side and emboldens another.

For Theresa May’s part, she might just get away with a delay if she can at least get the deal passed in the Commons. If she can’t get her deal over the line soon, a delay simply destroys the assumption that Brexit will happen. It opens it up to reversal, and Brexiteers still unconvinced by her deal might not come quickly enough to Brexit’s rescue to prevent this.