Giles McNeil: In the Battle for Brexit One Thing is Certain – Theresa May Lost This Week

Most people spend very little time engaging with political news. It is well documented that those that do tend only to do so in a way that reinforces their own views. So, first impressions count. People want bite-sized amounts of information.

Simply put, if you can package an idea into a couple of words you are on the right track. Far easier to spread the message ‘Boris resigns over flawed Brexit plan’ than ‘Theresa May backs Plan for facilitated customs arrangement allowing for integrated supply chains and ‘just-in-time’ processes, a common travel area and framework for mobility, and a significant suite of tools that support the UK’s and EU’s combined operational capabilities in terms of security’ – hardly the stuff of casual conversation.

The Prime Minister Theresa May was asked by a journalist after the Chequers summit if she would be addressing the nation to sell the plan. She gave a look of withering scorn to the journalist and it hasn’t helped her or the Government that she is yet to engage with the media and by extension the public.

The main stories in the aftermath of the Chequers Summit have been Donald Trump’s put-down of a UK-US free trade deal and the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson.

But what are the public thinking, and has the week’s events changed opinions? Overall 42% of people say they believe the Chequers Plan would be a ‘bad deal for Britain’, but not as split along party lines as some might imagine. Interestingly just 15% of people who voted Remain and 14% of those who voted Leave think the deal is good for Britain; meanwhile 51% of Leave voters and 42% of Remain voters see the deal as bad for the nation.

Much of the public (40%) think the deal is ‘too soft’, according to YouGov – and two-thirds of Leave voters would agree; whereas Remain voters are split thinking it’s ‘too hard’ (23%), ‘too soft’ (18%) and ‘just about right’ (18%). And well worth noting that over a third of people don’t have a clue (35%).

Naturally enough, with such a turbulent week in politics, the Prime Minister’s approval rating has collapsed to hitherto uncharted depths; just one in five view her favourably (down 9 percentage points since May), conversely 62% of people now say they have an unfavourable view of her – and it seemed to be Leave voters turning against her.

It is too early to judge any lasting damage to the Conservatives of the weeks events. A dip in two recent polls were both within the margin for error. Could these voters simply be dissatisfied and if push came to shove would they stay loyal for fear of the alternative offered by Jeremy Corbyn? Might they go and find a home with other parties? One factor that might influence things is who leads the Party after Mrs. May’s departure: Something perhaps entirely dependent on how the runners and riders have responded to the Chequers Deal.

Focusing on the reaction of Leave voters is a mistake; especially as we know that there is little disparity in YouGov’s survey between Leave and Remain voters on the Plan being bad for the nation. Early indicators suggest this week has harmed the Conservatives with a small number of people moving back to UKIP; it also seems to have increased support for a referendum on the final deal.

The plan has so far failed to please the nation, that much is certain. It will be the coming days and weeks we will see if the Prime Minister has the mettle to lead the nation to the optimistic vision of a post-Brexit UK envisioned by the Brexiteers. Or retreats to the comfort ground for all conservatives – maintaining the status quo; delivering the squishiest, spongiest, soft Brexit – a Brexit in name only.