By Tim Montgomerie
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In tomorrow's Daily Express we have the first authoritative poll on the EU referendum motion. Conducted by YouGov for VoteUKOutOfEU the poll of 1,727 people finds strong support for a free vote and for the motion to pass:
The poll also finds that voters are more likely to vote for an MP who supports a referendum than an MP who opposes one by 22% to 7% (for most voters it wouldn't make a difference).
Voters also dismiss the arguments of loyalist MPs like Richard Harrington and Nadhim Zahawi that this vote is a distraction from the real issues facing Britain. 57% say Britain's relationship with the EU is an issue that needs addressing now. 29% say that there are more important issues at the moment.
Asked how they would vote if a multi-option referendum was held, there is a clear win for staying inside the EU but renegotiating:
The numbers for Conservative voters only are 6%, 31% and 60%.
If the only choice was 'stay in' or 'leave', 52% of all voters would vote to leave and 31% to stay. It would be 66% to 23% among Tory voters.
Voters have little confidence in David Cameron to get a good deal for Britain in Europe. 61% have little or no confidence and 30% have some or a great deal of confidence.
"Our poll is clearly a slap in the face for the political elite in general and David Cameron in particular. The British public want their MP’s to vote with their conscience and represent their views and not slavishly follow David Cameron’s or Ed Milliband’s whips. Cameron talks about the Big Society, perhaps he should listen to them on this Big Issue for our country? In football terms this is the equivalent of a failing manager “losing the dressing room”. Although in the Prime Minister’s case it would appear that he has lost the dressing room, the boardroom and even his most loyal supporters behind his own goal!”
Tory MPs will be meeting party members this weekend without any clear direction from the party leadership as to a way forward in UK relations with Brussels. 67 Tory MPs have now said that they'll support the motion and having put their heads above the parapet they'll be reluctant to go wobbly now – which is how local activists will see it if they do. George Eustice MP, who has proposed a compromise amendment and is close to David Cameron, has conceded that the government has handled the whole episode "very, very badly".