It is far from certain that there is or will be a majority in the Commons for the abandonment of Brexit – the real aim of the second referendum campaigners. But it is increasingly possible to imagine that there might be, and that this Government would then seek both to postpone the leaving date and to enact just such a referendum. Theresa May is in breach of so many previous positions that for her to follow the impulses of an instinctively pro-Remain Commons would be a logical next step. (Let us not be detained by the thought that if such a move didn’t spark a leadership challenge, nothing will ever do.) What seems to drive her now is a primal fear of no deal. Her declaration that no deal is better than a bad deal is being turned on its head.
At any rate, our latest survey results are a reminder that any such grandmother of all U-turns would have very serious consequences for the Conservative Party, outside Parliament as well as within in.
Nine out of ten party activists are opposed to a second referendum. If Downing Street or CCHQ thinks that these members would all meekly turn out to campaign for the Party in the wake of any push from the leadership for a second referendum, they might want to think again. Certainly, many of them would turn out against Jeremy Corbyn in a general election. But not all. The immediate aftermath of a U-turn would be torn-up membership cards, cancelled subscriptions, less money and fewer boots on the ground. And as both the 2015 and 2017 elections demonstrated – positively and negatively in turn – having campaigners in the right places counts. Some of these disillusioned Tories might cast around for a new, credible UKIP. Most would simply sit on their hands.
Note, too, that backing for a Norwegian-type EEA solution stands at about the same level, in the survey’s attempt to find out which Brexit options, if any, make activists’ hearts beat a bit faster.
Object if you will that Canada Plus Plus Plus is not on the table (the Prime Minister snatched it off at Chequers); or that Norway-to-Canada now doesn’t seem to be, either (maybe it never was; perhaps it might have got somewhere had May pushed it). The point is to find out what our panel members want. It is just possible to believe that they will warm to any Norway Plus option – if it is deliverable, outside Parliament as well as in, which it may not be – in the event of a final choice being between it and no deal. But the survey provides no basis for believing so. No Deal is now activists’ most favoured option of all, it finds, narrowly outscoring even a Canadian-type settlement. Views are hardening as the endgame looms into sight.