“80 per cent of the British public support this deal”
That’s what prisons minister Rory Stewart told BBC 5 Live this afternoon as he tried to defend Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
After an ambitious attempt to quantify support for the draft agreement, Mr Stewart quickly revised his statement to clarify that he wasn’t basing the eye-watering 80 per cent figure on an actual opinion poll.
“Sorry, let me get the language right on that. My sense is if we have the opportunity to explain this, the vast majority of the British public would support this […] I’m producing a number to try to illustrate what I believe” he added.
He later said: “I totally apologise and I take that back.”
The Labour Whips have said that this is a “clear breach of the ministerial code”. It’s true that the Ministerial Code instructs ministers to be “mindful of the UK Statistics Authority’s Code of Practice”.
We’re not sure that this case is necessarily a “clear breach” of the code as Mr Stewart corrected himself and retracted the claim in the moment. But we’ll continue to keep our eyes and ears open for ministerial statistical acrobatics.
As it turns out, there was in fact a snap survey conducted overnight by YouGov – which is so far the only poll carried out since Theresa May announced her Brexit deal.
So what does the YouGov data tell us?
In news that has delighted advocates for a “People’s Vote”, more people said they would support a second referendum than oppose one (48 per cent in favour versus 34 per cent against).
When we remove people who answered “don’t know”, support for a People’s Vote is at 59 per cent.
But when it comes to the attitudes towards the latest deal, we’re in murkier waters.
If you were one of the 1,153 Brits to be polled last night by YouGov, it’s pretty likely that you – like the rest of the country – hadn’t quite finished reading all 585 pages of the draft withdrawal agreement. After all, it was only published at 8pm yesterday.
In an attempt to get round this, the pollsters simply asked respondents how they felt based on “what you have seen or heard about the government’s proposed Brexit deal, if it gets implemented”.
In other words, we have no way of knowing how many respondents were aware of the latest deal – or whether they understood its implications.
Let’s keep those caveats in mind and take a look at the stats.
They won’t make happy reading for Theresa May. The YouGov figures suggest that, based on what they’ve heard about Mrs May’s deal, Brits believe that if it goes ahead, the economy, the NHS, and future generations will be worse off.
On some of the headline issues, here’s what the public expect as a result of the deal…
- The economy will be weaker: 47 per cent believe Britain’s economy will be weaker after Brexit, compared to 11 per cent who think it will be stronger. A significant minority (42 per cent) think it will be about the same or they don’t know.
- We’ll take back control: 36 per cent think the deal will give Britain more control over its future, compared to 29 per cent who think we’ll have less control. Again, a combined 35 per cent either don’t know or think there’ll be no change on this front.
- Promises have been broken: asked specifically what they’d heard of last night’s deal, 75 per cent of respondents said “what is now being proposed won’t be anything like what was promised two years ago”. Just 7 per cent said that they disagreed with that statement.
- There’s no clear mandate for MPs: asked whether MPs should vote for the deal agreed by the government, 21 per cent of people said they should support Mrs May, compared to 35 per cent who said members should vote it down. But a further 44 per cent of people said they didn’t know either way.
Rory Stewart said that 80 per cent of the public support Theresa May’s Brexit deal. He admitted he had plucked figure out of thin air – and he apologised for it within minutes.
The latest polling from YouGov suggests people are generally negative about government negotiations with the EU so far.
Although since the polling was carried out overnight, it’s unlikely that people who took part will have read it in detail: the document is 585 pages long and was only published at 8pm yesterday evening.