Labour has ‘More Seats to Gain by Rejecting Brexit than it would Lose in Red Wall’New Poll Suggests
Keir Starmer could win an increased majority by turning against Brexit – but party officials are still rejecting any notion of rejoining the EU
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The Labour Party would remain on course to regain all the ‘Red Wall’ seats it lost in 2019 – and could actually see a surge in support – if it deemed Brexit to be a mistake, new polling suggests.
Research for the independent Constitution Society suggests that the party could win an increased Commons majority at a general election if it condemned Brexit as a failure.
Labour’s stance on Brexit has shifted markedly since 2019, when Keir Starmer – prior to being elected leader – said that, in the wake of the Liberal Democrat surge in the final European elections, “there are many in the Labour Party who feel we need to be very clear about a second referendum and about making the case for remain… That’s certainly what I’m advocating”.
Starmer resigned from Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet in opposition to the 2016 EU Referendum result. Since then, he has committed Labour to a policy of making Brexit work and has ruled out ever rejoining the EU, the Single Market or the Customs Union, or returning to freedom of movement.
Starmer and other senior Labour figures who were previously pro-Remain now insist that it is time to move on from the issue – maintaining a position of not criticising Brexit despite evidence of public opinion turning increasingly against the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The Constitution Society says that Labour seems to be motivated by the fear that appearing to be anti-Brexit would risk its chances of regaining the so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats at the next election – seats which voted Leave and which previously backed Labour.
Regaining lost ground in the Red Wall is often regarded as being essential to a Labour return to power.
But the poll commissioned by The Constitution Society suggests that there would be no electoral penalty for Labour if it said Brexit was a mistake – and that it could even gain from doing so. However, it is not clear whether condemning Brexit would mean Labour would back rejoining or what the timeframe or mechanism would be for doing so.
With its present stance of ‘make Brexit work’, Labour is projected to win 527 seats in the House of Commons – a majority of 404.
According to the poll, if it said Brexit was a mistake, its total could rise to 550. Labour is currently on course to sweep all 42 Red Wall seats. This poll reveals that the party would still be on course to win all 42 seats if it said Brexit was a mistake.
The poll found that among people in Britain:
- Most people (59%) think Brexit has made Britain worse-off
- Most people (55%) think that Brexit was a mistake
- On General Voting Intention, Labour has a lead of 26% over the Conservatives, which could grow to 28% if Labour said Brexit was a mistake
Among Red Wall voters:
- Exactly half agree that Brexit has made Britain worse-off
- 46% say Brexit was a mistake
- On General Voting Intention, Labour has a lead of 33% over the Conservatives
- This lead could shrink to 30% if Labour said Brexit was a mistake, but the party would still win all 42 Red Wall seats, all things being equal
However, Starmer’s spokesperson rejected any suggestion of rejoining the EU. They told Byline Times: “We’ve set our position on Brexit and that isn’t going to change. We’ve made it very clear that there’ll be no return to freedom of movement, no return to the Customs Union, no return to the Single Market.
“We absolutely agree that there are failings with the deal that this Government negotiated and we will be looking to make changes to the relationship that we have with the EU so that it strengthens the economy and works better for the UK.”
Andrew Blick, Professor of Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London and a senior advisor to The Constitution Society, said that Labour’s position had improved among Red Wall voters and the party now had potentially more to gain from rejecting Brexit.
“Most Labour voters backed Remain in 2016, and a majority of members of the public seem now to view Brexit as a mistake,” he said. “But, because of the way that the UK ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system works, a particular viewpoint can achieve electoral importance out of proportion to its total popularity.
“Support for Brexit was high in seats that Labour lost in 2019. The party seems to have drawn the conclusion that it cannot come back into power if it criticises Brexit. But, this polling suggests it is mistaken.”
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Dr Dexter Govan, director of research at The Constitution Society, believes Labour shouldn’t assume it needs to adopt a pro-Brexit policy simply because of constituencies in the Red Wall.
“Constitutional policy should be carefully developed to meet the needs of the nation, and not in an attempt to curry favour with specific voting demographics,” he said.
There are many barriers to rejoining the EU – among them the fact that, while opinion has turned in favour of rejoining, voters do not currently rank it as an important issue, according to the UK in a Changing Europe think tank. And the polling cannot account for the likely right-wing backlash that could ensue if Labour rejected Brexit.
The SNP’s constitutional affairs spokesperson Tommy Sheppard MP told Byline Times it is a “political mystery” why Starmer did not reject Brexit now. “It’s unsurprising that his kamikaze appeal to the dwindling number of dogged Brexit supporting voters might backfire. We certainly shouldn’t underestimate Starmer’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
At the Lib Dem Conference last week, its Leader Sir Ed Davey called for “repair” to Britain’s “broken relationship with Europe”.
“When Boris Johnson brought his terrible deal to Parliament, when even Labour supported it, Liberal Democrats stood alone and voted against it,” he said. However, it fell short of calling for the UK to rejoin the EU.
The Constitution Society commissioned the polling through Find Out Now, which interviewed 1,862 adults across Great Britain and a further 1,457 adults living in Red Wall seats online from 10 to 14 March 2023.
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