Theresa May has lost the first week of her Chequers war

by Ben Walker, 13 Jul 2018

“When I asked Theresa May on Saturday if she would do a broadcast to the nation to sell the deal, she looked at me like I was an idiot”.

These are the words of Tim Shipman, Political Editor of the Sunday Times. To me they helpfully epitomise why the Brexit deal agreed last Friday at Chequers has gone down badly with the public.

Most voters offer as little as a few minutes a week, if that, to political news, and so first impressions and bite-sized stories that can be easily understood matter hugely. The main stories that have so far featured in the aftermath of Chequers have been Donald Trump’s put-down of a US-UK trade deal and the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson. It’s easier for the public to become aware of and understand the resignation of Boris, a figure who 51% of Leave voters have a favourable view of (notably up from 45% in Nov 2017) in protest of the deal, than the detail of the deal itself. It doesn’t help the cause of the government, either, that Theresa May is yet to make any serious attempt to engage with the media, and by extension, the electorate.

So in the space of this week, what do the public think?

Belief in the Chequers deal being ‘bad for Britain’ is the view of 42% of the nation, but not as split by voting intention as some might expect. Though there have been demonstrations of support from predominantly Remain voting Conservative MPs, just 15% of Remain voters and 14% of Leave voters think the deal good for Britain. In contrast, 51% of Leave voters and 42% of Remain voters see the deal as bad for the nation.

Much of the public (40%) view the deal as ‘too soft’. 66% of Leave voters are in agreement with this, whereas Remain voters are this time quite split between thinking it too hard (23%), too soft (18%) or just about right (18%).

It also needs noting over one in three Brits (35%) don’t have a clue.

[YouGov]: "Thinking about the approach that Theresa May is taking towards Brexit, do you think she is aiming for a Brexit that is..."

Theresa May’s favourability with the nation has crashed to a record low. Just one in five Brits view her favourably (down 9pts on May), as opposed to 62% who view her unfavourably (up 7pts). YouGov’s Matthew Smith points out that those turning against her seem to be predominantly Brexit voters.

This newfound alienation with the swathe of voters that gave the Tories an extended honeymoon in 2016-17 appears to be already doing the blues damage in the polls, though as to whether it’s terminal and whether these votes do drift in large enough numbers to other parties rather than stay loyal but dissatisfied is yet to be seen. One factor which may influence as to whether this shift will be terminal might be who leads the Conservative party after Mrs May’s departure, something perhaps entirely dependent on how they responded to the Chequers deal.

The latest YouGov voting intention puts the Conservatives on 37%, the lowest share with the pollster since April 2016; and UKIP on 6%, its highest share with the pollster since May 2017. This is also reflected in the latest Survation (though surveyed before the resignations), where they are down 3pts and behind Labour; but not in the latest ICM, which has the Tories 2pts ahead and unchanged on two weeks previous.

It would be wrong to draw from these findings that it is Leave voters alone who are leading the dissatisfied charge against the government’s plan. The fact there was little disparity in the YouGov survey between Leave and Remain voters on the view that the deal is bad for Britain is particularly interesting. If Mrs May’s intentions were to make both sides of a divided electorate unhappy over Brexit, then it appears she’s passed with flying colours. Early indications point to a fall in support for the Tories, the potential return of UKIP, and an increase in support for a referendum on the final deal. Survation, albeit from June, had 48% supporting a second vote; and YouGov’s more recent tracker (posing a different but similar question) has opposition to a vote ahead, though down 4pts on when it was last asked.

Though the deal has so far failed to please the nation, let alone May’s own voters, perhaps it really isn’t relevant what the public think, for the votes that matter the most at this moment in time are those sitting in the Commons.