Europe

How voters will judge whether Brexit means Brexit – and the two questions Ministers should ask about any deal

By Lord Ashcroft

Rarely can a Prime Minister have been so glad to see the back of her colleagues. As she left Westminster for a well-earned holiday last week, Theresa May knew that each one of the crucial votes she survived in a fraught parliamentary session only served to underline just how unenviable her task of shepherding any kind of Brexit deal through the House of Commons will be – if indeed a deal can be concluded that she is prepared to sign.

The fact that people on both sides of the Leave-Remain divide recognise the bind she is in and praise her efforts to produce a workable solution will be little comfort. So will any rueful reflections that her reasoning in calling an early election has arguably been vindicated: there is, as she warned on the steps of Number Ten fifteen months and an age ago, division at Westminster when there should be unity, and the “uncertainty and instability” she wanted to banish is inescapable. Oh, for the thumping majority that seemed to be in the script.

As it is, the PM is caught between those in the Conservative Party, let alone outside it, who would cheerfully exit the EU without a deal and those who want nothing to change, or as little as they can possibly get away with (more…)

Brexit, the Border and the Union

By Lord Ashcroft

The Irish border is at the centre of negotiations as to how we will leave the European Union. My latest research, published today, explores what people think about the issue on both sides of the border, how voters in Great Britain see the question in the context of the wider Brexit debate, and the potential implications for the union of nations in the United Kingdom. My report is called Brexit, The Border And The Union, so let’s take those themes in turn.

 

Brexit

Three quarters of Leave voters in Britain – and a majority of remainers – said they thought the Brexit negotiations and decisions about the UK’s future outside the EU were proceeding too slowly (more…)

Leave voters would rather lose Northern Ireland than give up the benefits of Brexit

By Lord Ashcroft

This article was first published in the Telegraph

It seems ironic, when we remember the sound and fury generated on both sides of the referendum campaign, that the biggest sticking point in the Brexit negotiations – the Irish border – is one that was hardly mentioned before the vote. As with so much in politics, how you see this conundrum depends on who you are and where you sit.

My latest research finds that for Nationalists in Northern Ireland, the practicality of customs checks is almost beside the point: any kind of border in an island that they see as one country is unthinkable. For them, avoiding a hard border eclipses any other potential goal of the Brexit negotiations.

But most Unionists in Northern Ireland, especially those who voted to leave the EU, believe the border issue is being deliberately exaggerated (more…)

‘In Ireland, we’d have a second referendum to get the right result’: Brexit and the border, as seen from the Republic

By Lord Ashcroft

Yesterday I reported on what my focus groups in Ballymena and Belfast had to say about Brexit, the border and the Union. Today, the view from the South.

One thing that united our focus groups in the Republic of Ireland – Fine Gael voters in Dublin and Fianna Fail supporters in the north-western city of Sligo – was the conviction that by voting for Brexit the UK had made a terrible mistake which it would regret, if it didn’t already: “They misunderstood what they were doing;” “Places like the North East are wholly reliant on foreign investment. It’s like turkeys voting for Christmas;” “It was for all the wrong reasons. ‘We are Britain and we’re going to be great again, we’re not going to have the EU telling us what to do, we won the war’.” (more…)

Brexit and the border: the view from Northern Ireland

By Lord Ashcroft

The UK’s future relationship with the European Union increasingly hinges on a question that for many years seemed settled: the Irish border. I wanted to hear from the people on either side of it: what they hope for and fear from the Brexit settlement, and the consequences they see for relations between North and South and the future of the Union. Tomorrow I will report from the Republic, and I’ll publish further research on the issue in the run up to the European Council summit next month at which the question will supposedly be resolved. Today, though, we’ll start with my focus groups in Northern Ireland.

In Ballymena, in the Democratic Unionist Party stronghold of North Antrim represented in parliament by Ian Paisley Jr, as it was by his father before him, many of our participants were pleased that their party held the balance of power at Westminster (more…)

Brexit Britain won’t forget its old friends

By Lord Ashcroft

This article was first published in The Times Of Malta

Britain’s friendship with Malta is so long and so rich that it would be easy to take for granted. The award of the George Cross in 1942 by King George VI to bear witness to the nation’s “heroism and devotion” following the second siege of Malta is only the best-known episode in a story that spans the centuries: the joint enterprise of ridding Malta of the French garrison in 1800, the islands’ part in the British Empire, their crucial role as a supply station in the First World War, their valiant endurance against the Axis powers in the Second, their long service as the home of the British Mediterranean Fleet, and accession to the Commonwealth on gaining independence in 1964 are testament to a true partnership.

These bonds of history and affection are not confined to the past. In a survey I conducted before the EU referendum I was pleased to see that fondness for Britain among Maltese people lives on (more…)

The Conservatives can’t rely on Brexit to win them the next election

By Lord Ashcroft

When the Conservatives won their unexpected majority at the 2015 general election many Tories felt it was a return to the natural order of things. Naturally, people had preferred sensible economic management to unaffordable spending plans. Of course they had chosen a Prime Ministerial Prime Minister over one whom they could barely imagine standing outside Number Ten. And if this was the world as it should be, 2017 must have been an aberration: a freak result that could be put down to the election’s unusual circumstances, a terrible Tory campaign, and Jeremy Corbyn’s sudden, bizarre and surely unsustainable status as a cult figure.

Like the mindset that said people would never really vote for that fashionable Mr. Blair – or, once they had, that they would soon repent of their silliness and restore the Conservatives to their rightful place in office – this would be a very dangerous assumption indeed for Tories to make (more…)

Where the parties stand – and more on that second EU referendum…

By Lord Ashcroft

Earlier this week I published the findings of my latest focus groups to explore how voters around the country saw things seven eventful months on from the general election. My new poll underlines that despite what has felt like the frenetic pace of politics for those who follow its twists and turns, surprisingly little has changed. There is little in the numbers to comfort either party.

In my post-election research for The Lost Majority I found only 28 per cent saying they thought the country was on the right track. This week that number is unchanged, with nearly half – including seven in ten of those who voted to remain in the EU – saying things are heading in the wrong direction (more…)

“Our cup has overflowed with political stuff. There’s only so much we want to take in”: my latest focus groups

By Lord Ashcroft

Of the 31 weeks since the general election – an experience most Conservatives would rather forget – how many have been good ones for the government? Much has happened in politics since June, and little of it could be said to have lifted the spirits. Yet the opposition has failed to open up the clear lead they might have expected over what has often seemed a hapless governing party, and surveys show the Tory rating to be all but unchanged since polling day. To help shed light on this curious state of affairs I held focus groups last week in three constituencies as politics once again got underway: Battersea, which the Conservatives lost last year to Labour; Walsall North, which they gained; and Wakefield, which they hoped they would gain but didn’t, despite seeing their vote share in the seat rise by eleven points (more…)

Brexit poll: Voters think EU aims to punish Britain

By Lord Ashcroft

Voters are losing confidence that the government will be able to secure a good Brexit deal for Britain, according to my latest survey. The poll, conducted this week, also finds that most think the EU’s objective is to punish Britain and stop other countries leaving, and that Remain and Leave voters have different priorities for the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with EU countries.

With talks once again underway in Brussels, my research shows that both Remain and Leave voters are less sure about the prospect of a good outcome than they were before the general election. In March, before the election was called, I asked voters to say how confident they were that Theresa May and her team would be able to negotiate a good deal on a scale from zero (no confidence at all) to 100 (total confidence). The average answer then was 52, but this has fallen to 42 in my new survey, conducted this week (more…)