Party urged to clarify policy as poll finds more than half of Labour voters oppose leadership backing Brexit
Labour is coming under pressure from leading pro-remain campaigners to clarify its stance on Brexit, after polling showed that a quarter of its current voters could switch party by the next election and more than half would oppose Labour backing Brexit.
The poll of people planning to vote Labour conducted by YouGov for the Best of Britain campaign group found 24% said they may change their minds before the next election, and two-thirds of those who voted remain would be disappointed or angry if Labour says it will proceed with Brexit.
The poll also found many Labour voters have opposing perceptions about the partys current stance on Brexit. It found 32% of Labour remain voters believe Labour is completely against Brexit and a further 31% of Labour leave voters believe Labour is completely in favour of Brexit.
Mark Malloch Brown, a crossbench peer and chair of Best for Britain, said: This data shows, clearly, that many more remainers are likely to abandon Labour over its Brexit line than leavers. Labour did so well in the election off the back of pro-European voters tactically voting for them. All that could be at risk if this policy, a calculated policy of ambiguity, continues.
Seventy Labour councillors from south London have called on Jeremy Corbyn to be open to giving voters another say on Brexit.
In an open letter, the councillors from Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth wrote: The contradictions inherent in the Brexit project itself should concern the Labour party far more than has been the case up to now. We should be prepared to offer the electorate the opportunity to say whether leaving the EU is really in the best interests of the country.
They said Labour should be open on the mechanism by which voters have their say but urged the party to be clear that the electorates role in this process did not end on 23 June 2016.
On the biggest issue facing our country since the second world war, Labour should be committed to providing the opportunity for people to change their mind. Doing so would demonstrate bravery, maturity and the principled leadership the country so desperately needs. Labour needs to move from ambiguity in 2017 over Brexit to clarity in 2018, they said.
The partys official position is that it wants Britain to stay in the single market during transition out of the EU, but it has left most of the issues about the terms of the UKs future trading relationship with the EU on the table for negotiation.
Remain campaigners trying to pressure Labour into a clearer Brexit stance claim Labour will inflict damage to its wider political credibility if, on the central issue of contemporary politics, different audiences believe they are receiving entirely different messages from the Labour leadership.
They claim Corbyn will start to lose his central electoral appeal of authenticity among key groups if the ambiguity is seen as a deliberate attempt to maximise the Labour vote.
However, the Labour leadership is determined to resist pressure to spell out in more detail what Brexit settlement Labour would support, despite a series of comments suggesting the party is edging closer towards advocating continued single market membership.
Before Christmas, Corbyn and his closest allies were understood to be keen to avoid placating ardent remain voters at the expense of Brexit backers in core Labour seats. They know they will eventually have to give a verdict on whatever trade deal is reached with the EU27 next year, but they fear too much detail now could be a hostage to fortune.
The YouGov survey of 1,075 voters polled people who intend to vote Labour at the next election and was undertaken between 17 and 19 December. Although there are many polls of whether the public is changing its mind about Brexit, the survey is one of the first tests of whether Labour specifically faces an electoral price among its current projected voters if it shifts away from its current ambivalent stance.
In the poll, 63% of self-identified Labour supporters say they would be delighted or pleased if Labour said it would stop Brexit and stay in the European Union.
Another 21% would oppose such a policy, 11% said they would be angry and 10% disappointed if the leadership adopted such a stance. Ten per cent said they would not mind.
By contrast, only 22% of Labour supporters said they would be delighted or pleased if Labour said it would proceed with Brexit and ensure the UK leaves the EU, 51% said they would be disappointed or angry, and 19% said they would not mind.
Just over 50% of the group that said they were currently Labour supporters but may change their mind claimed they would be either angry or disappointed if Labour promised to proceed with Brexit.
The poll did not directly ask whether their anger would be sufficient of itself to make them vote for another party. But the overall message from the poll is that Labour faces a greater political risk among both strong and wavering supporters if it is seen to be supporting Brexit.