At the end of last year, there was no sign at all that Party members were willing to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal, according to our survey. Seventy-one per cent of respondents opposed it and 26 per cent supported it.
But last month, the suggestion that the Northern Ireland backstop might be removed from the deal won a majority for it. Thirteen per cent of those surveyed said that they would back the deal outright, and 40 per cent that they would do so were the backstop to be removed from it. So 53 per cent lined up behind one of those two options. Forty-five per cent said that the deal would not be acceptable to them even were the backstop to be removed.
Since then, the Prime Minister has thrown her weight behind the so-called Brady amendment – whipping the Parliamentary Party to support Sir Graham’s motion to remove the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement. In the wake of last Tuesday’s votes, she told the Commons that she would now “take this mandate forward and seek to obtain legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement”.
This seems to have done her a power of good with Party members. According to this month’s survey, the proportion who oppose her deal under any circumstances is down to 36 per cent. These will be some Second Referendum backers but mostly No Deal supporters. (The best part of 90 per cent of Party members are opposed to the former, according to last month’s survey.)
Seventeen per cent of Party members back the deal as it stands. Forty-four per cent would support it were the backstop to be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement. Forty-one per cent would do so were the UK to have the unilateral right to leave the backstop. Thirty-three per cent would so were the backstop to have a time limit that would enable the UK to quit it before the next election.
Add those last three percentages to the 17 per cent who support the deal in any event, and one has 61 per cent, 58 per cent and 50 per cent. Twelve per cent would back the deal were the UK able to leave the backstop after the next election. Add the 17 per cent and one has a total of 29 per cent. All in all, the Brady amendment, and perhaps the Malthouse Compromise, have given Tory unity a shot in the arm among Party members as well as Conservative MPs.
Of course, “legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement” don’t necessarily imply changes to the text of the backstop itself. And the EU may not be up for any sort of change to the deal (if it is, the most likely route is some kind of codicil or annexe).
But these are much better results for May than any that the survey has found recently, and is a gift horse that some in Downing Street and CCHQ won’t want to look in the mouth.