Theresa May’s Chequers plan for Brexit has suffered a fresh blow after a new poll found that twice as many voters preferred a Canada-style free trade deal instead.
The poll conducted for HuffPost UK by BMG Research found that the free trade option was backed by 22% of the public, compared to just 11% who favoured the PM’s proposal to keep the UK aligned with some EU rules.
The Canada-style deal would allow the UK to curb EU migration, while freeing the country from Brussels’ trade and regulatory framework.
Backed by Tory Cabinet ministers and backbenchers, it is being pushed by several campaign groups as the best alternative to a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
The BMG survey found that the Canada model was the most popular (22%) of a list of Brexit proposals for those who expressed a preference.
A total of 19% would back a ‘no deal’ Brexit, 16% would opt to Remain in the EU with curbs on trade deals with other countries, and only 11% supported a ‘Norway-style’ option that would allow unrestricted EU migration.
Just 11% back the Chequers deal, which seeks to create a UK-EU free trade zone and common rule book for goods, with greater regulatory freedom for services. One in five voters were ‘don’t knows’.
Among Tory voters, 31% support the Canada option, 26% no deal and 20% Chequers. Among Labour voters, just 5% support the May plan, 18% would back the Canada model and 25% would stay in the EU on current terms.
Even among those of all parties who voted Remain in 2016, only 10% back Chequers, 21% back the Canada model and 32% backed staying in the EU.
WHAT IS THE CANADA-PLUS OPTION?
Canada agreed a free trade deal with the EU in 2016, after seven years of talks
It removes most trade tariffs on goods and allows Canadian firms ‘preferential access’ to EU markets without having to sign up to all EU regulations automatically
Some food products such as eggs and chicken are exempt and trade in services is only partially covered
Brexiteers want a ‘Canada-plus-plus-plus’ deal, with bits of similar EU trade agreements with South Korea, Japan and Switzerland part of the bespoke UK deal
A Canada-style deal would leave the UK free to strike its own trade deals with other countries, like the US, while handing back control of immigration.
It’s unclear how a Canada option could avoid new border checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland
May’s proposals suffered a major setback last week when EU leaders in Salzburg said her trade plans ‘will not work’ in their current form.
Several Tory backbenchers have said they cannot vote for the Prime Minister’s compromise, claiming it leaves the UK half-in and half-out of the EU. Former minister Sir Mike Penning said last week it was “as dead as a Dodo”.
Boris Johnson quit the Government claiming the PM’s Chequers plan would still leave Britain a ‘vassal state’ of the EU, while David Davis has warned that a ‘rock solid core’ of Tory MPs will refuse to vote for it in Parliament.
Lead backbench Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said on Monday that May was “likely to recognise the reality that Chequers doesn’t have much support” and that “with her wisdom and insight she’ll think carefully about adopting it”.
In recent days, several Cabinet members including Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, are said to have moved towards a Canada-style deal.
But any unease about the Chequers plan was kept under wraps at the Cabinet meeting on Monday, as Downing Street and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab stressed the Canada-model could create new border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn also warned against the Canada idea, saying it would be “the first free-trade deal in history that actually increased barriers to trade”.
“A Canada free-style deal is not the answer for our country,” Fairbairn told Radio 4’s Today programme.
“It would introduce friction at borders, it would not solve the Irish border, it would damage the supply chains on which thousands and thousands of jobs depend. It’s a seductive idea but it is not the answer for Britain.”
Following the Cabinet meeting, Raab told the BBC that he and his colleagues were united. “We had a good, healthy discussion, the Prime Minister made clear we are going to keep our calm, hold our nerve, and press the EU on some of the criticisms that they have made,” he said.
Earlier, Johnson praised proposals put forward by the Institute for Economic Affairs think tank, declaring it showed there was an alternative to the “colony status” of the Chequers route.
The IEA urged May to back an advanced free trade agreement with the EU, with full reciprocal market access, no tariffs in goods including agriculture and maximum recognition of regulatory standards through hi-tech border checks.
*BMG interviewed a representative sample of 1,006 adults living in Great Britain online, on the 21st & 22nd September. Data are weighted. BMG are members of the British Polling Council (BPC) and abide by their rules. Full results at www.bmgresearch.co.uk/polling