Jeremy Corbyn is facing further pressure to back a second Brexit referendum after polling showed support among Labour members for another vote.
The Labour leader has resisted calls from within his party to back a referendum, instead calling for a general election and promising to strike his own “jobs-first” Brexit deal with Brussels retaining all the benefits of staying in while leaving.
But a study of more than 1,000 Labour members found that 72% want Corbyn to throw his weight behind a so-called People’s Vote.
Outside the membership, the study also found backing for a second vote among Labour supporters, with some 57% of current Labour voters and 61% of those who backed the party at the 2017 election want Corbyn to “fully support” a fresh referendum.
The work suggests that tens of thousands of Labour members could be prepared to quit the party over the leadership’s approach to leaving the EU.
Almost a quarter (23%) of Labour members put Corbyn’s refusal to back a second referendum down to a belief that he supports Brexit.
Professor Tim Bale, of Queen Mary University London, said: “Our survey of Labour’s grassroots clearly shows that Corbyn’s apparent willingness to see the UK leave the EU – a stance he has recently reiterated – is seriously at odds with what the overwhelming majority of Labour’s members want, and it doesn’t reflect the views of most Labour voters either.”
The work was carried out by YouGov for the Economic and Social Research Council-funded Party Members Project.
Some 29% of Labour’s rank-and-file members said they oppose the stance that the party has taken on Brexit – and 56% of those told researchers it has caused them to consider quitting.
That proportion would be equivalent to around 88,000 members, according to the project’s analysis.
If there is another referendum – and a three-way question – some 88% of Labour members said they would back Remain, 3% said they would leave with Theresa May’s deal and 5% would support leaving with no deal.
If the choice was between the prime minister’s deal and leaving the EU without an agreement, some 27% of Labour members said they would boycott the vote altogether, although 46% said they would take May’s deal.
Some 89% of Labour members – compared with 65% of current Labour voters and only 45% of all voters – are convinced that leaving the EU without a deal would cause economic damage in the medium to long-term.
While just 35% of the electorate as a whole believe that warnings of short-term disruption with potential problems for food and medicine supplies in a no-deal Brexit are realistic, that figure rises to 82% of Labour members and 58% of Labour voters.
Prof Bale said: “Our survey suggests Labour’s membership is overwhelmingly in favour of the UK remaining in the EU and badly wants a referendum to achieve that end.
“It also suggests that Labour voters, while not as keen as the party’s members on either count, are in the same camp. “Labour’s grassroots clearly hate Brexit and, although many of them still love Corbyn, he might not be able to rely for much longer on their support for him trumping their opposition to leaving the EU.
“As a result, our research is bound to increase the pressure on Labour’s leader to get off the fence.”
Eloise Todd, boss of the anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain, said Labour members were clear about what they wanted.
“Jeremy Corbyn has run on a ticket of party democracy so that party policy will reflect the views of ordinary members more than ever before,” she said.
“Brexit is his chance to deliver on that promise, and with a majority of the country now wanting to stay in the EU that leadership is needed more than ever. “The clock is ticking and Labour must change tack in the New Year by securing a public vote on Brexit and campaigning to reflect what its members, and families and communities around the UK, want: to stay in the EU and rebuild Britain from within.’
YouGov surveyed 1,034 Labour Party members between December 17 and 21 2018. The pollster also surveyed a representative sample of 1,675 British adults on December 18-19.