The British public have delivered a damning verdict on the Government’s Brexit strategy after a new poll revealed a huge majority think negotiations with Brussels are going badly.
The exclusive BMG Research survey carried out before and during the European Council summit at which the Prime Minister won a small concession from EU leaders, shows more than three-quarters of people still think her strategy is failing.
Almost half also think that the no-deal scenario threatened by ministers would be “bad” for Britain, and reject outright the hard Brexit plan to abandon talks at Christmas if the EU does not allow progress, according to the poll.
Instead a majority want the Government to continue negotiating, despite many still feeling the UK will come off worse than the EU in any eventual deal.
The polling undertaken between 17 and 20 October comes after a tough European Council meeting at which Theresa May herself admitted talks had hit “difficulty”, as she beseeched European leaders to give her a deal she could sell to the British public.
At the same time Ms May is under increasing pressure in London to give no new concessions to the EU and walk away from negotiations if Brussels does not agree to start discussing a future trade deal by the next summit in December.
While EU leaders confirmed they would begin internal discussions in preparation for trade talks – something expected for more than a week – they made clear Ms May must still give a stronger commitment to pay a bigger divorce bill.
The survey asked, “In your view, how well or badly do you feel the negotiations are going?” Seventy-six per cent said they felt they are going either “quite badly” or “very badly”.
Only 1 per cent thought they are going “very well”, with a further 11 per cent thinking they are going quite well and 12 per cent saying “don’t know”.
Ms May has said she does not want the negotiations to collapse, but has consistently threatened to walk away from talks if she does not get what she wants, coining the phrase in her Lancaster House speech “no deal is better than a bad deal”.
The survey suggests almost half of people, some 46 per cent, believe a deal is either “fairly” or “very” unlikely, with 37 per cent believing the opposite and 17 per cent saying they “don’t know”.
Meanwhile, 45 per cent, think a no-deal scenario would be bad for Britain, only 11 per cent think it would be good, while 22 per cent say it would make “no difference”.
EU leaders shone a ray of hope on to negotiations on Friday by confirming previously reported plans that they will begin internal discussions on preparing for trade talks, which might potentially start by Christmas.
But the key stumbling block to progress remained in place, with both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron demanding the UK make a stronger commitment to meeting its financial obligations.
Brexiteers on the right of the Conservatives want the Prime Minister to abandon negotiations if the EU does not agree to talk about a future trade deal by the December summit.
But the BMG survey showed a majority of the British public rejected this approach – with 52 per cent saying the UK should continue trying to achieve a deal regardless, 28 per cent saying the country should abandon talks and accelerate plans for a “no deal” and 20 per cent saying they did not know.
Even if a deal is hammered out with Brussels the British public are not confident the UK will come out on top, according to the poll.
Some 48 per cent say the EU will come off better, while only a fifth, 21 per cent, think the UK will come out on top. People who did not know accounted for 31 per cent of those surveyed.
Speaking after the summit on Friday, Ms May gave an upbeat assessment of the state of play, saying: “I’m positive and optimistic about where we can get to in relation to the future partnership that we want with the EU, because it is not only in the interests of the British people, it is in the interests of people across the remaining 27 members of the EU as well.”
She said that ahead of the December summit, UK officials will go through the EU’s financial demands “line by line”.
The Prime Minister said Britain will be ready to pay “relevant costs” of continued participation in EU projects, but made clear an overall figure cannot be expected before the shape of the final deal is known – something not expected before autumn 2018.
Fieldwork was carried out between 17 October and 20 October, interviewing a 1,506 GB adults, aged 18+. Results were weighted to reflect the profile of GB adults. BMG are members of the British Polling Council and abide by their rules. Full details at bmgresearch.co.uk/polling