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Brexit will be Corbyn’s ‘acid test’ as new Sussex study shows he’s at odds with his party

Jeremy Corbyn

A new survey of Labour members by the University of Sussex and Queen Mary University of London shows overwhelming support for another referendum and for staying in the EU. This is Corbyn's acid test, says a Sussex professor.

The ESRC-sponsored Party Members Project, which includes Professor Paul Webb at the University of Sussex, has surveyed 1,034 Labour Party members together with a representative sample of 1,675 voters.  

The survey of Labour’s grassroots took place in December 2018 and shows that Corbyn’s apparent willingness to see the UK leave the EU – a stance he has recently reiterated – is at odds with what the overwhelming majority of Labour’s members want, and it doesn’t reflect the views of most Labour voters either.

Some 83% of Labour members surveyed voted Remain in 2016 – a much higher proportion, incidentally, than the 60% of 2017 Labour voters who did the same. 

Professor Paul Webb at the University of Sussex, who was part of the research team and who ‘crunched the numbers’, says:

“This research confirms the growing impression that Jeremy Corbyn, while still strongly supported by Labour’s members overall, is clearly at odds with them over Brexit. This is likely to offer the acid test of his willingness to let the grassroots decide party policy.”

Professor Tim Bale at Queen Mary University of London says:

“If Jeremy Corbyn genuinely believes, as he has repeatedly claimed, that the Labour Party’s policy should reflect the wishes of its members rather than just its leaders, then he arguably has a funny way of showing it – at least when it comes to Brexit.”

Some 73% of current Labour voters think – in hindsight and irrespective of what they themselves voted in 2016 – that the UK was wrong to vote to leave the EU. That proportion rises to 89% among Labour members – and is a view shared, too, by 31% of the small minority of members who did vote Leave in the Referendum.

Most Labour members – like most current Labour voters – would like to see the party fully support holding a new referendum on Brexit. Some 72% of Labour members (compared to 57% of current Labour voters and 61% of 2017 Labour voters) want Corbyn to fully support a new referendum on Brexit.

The researchers say that if such a referendum – a ‘People’s vote’ – is held, it is clear which way Labour’s rank and file would go. Some 88% members say their first preference in a three-way referendum would be to remain in the EU, with only 3% saying that it would be to leave the EU with Theresa May’s deal; and only 5% saying it would be to leave with no deal. The figures for current Labour voters are 71%, 8%, and 12% respectively.

The survey also presented Labour members and voters with a series of binary, two-option referendums. In what for most of them would be a “Hobson’s choice” between leaving on Mrs May’s terms or crashing out with no deal, then 27% say they’d boycott the vote altogether, although some 46% of members confess they’d take the deal (compared to 42% of current Labour voters). More predictably, perhaps, a referendum which forced a choice between Remain and no deal would see 88% of Labour members (compared to 71% of current Labour voters) opting to stay in the EU – the option that 36% of the small minority of members who voted Leave in 2016 would now take too. Similarly 88% of members (and once again 71% of current Labour voters) would vote to Remain if the other option presented to them in a referendum were leaving on Mrs May’s terms.

Professor Bale continues:

“In sum, our survey suggests Labour’s membership is overwhelmingly in favour of the UK remaining in the EU and badly wants a referendum to achieve that end. It also suggests that Labour voters, while not as keen as the party’s members on either count, are in the same camp. Labour’s grassroots clearly hate Brexit, and although many of them still love Corbyn, he might not be able rely for much longer on their support for him trumping their opposition to leaving the EU. As a result, our research is bound to increase the pressure on Labour’s leader to get off the fence.”

By: Anna Ford
Last updated: Wednesday, 2 January 2019