View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
11 July 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:21pm

Does Theresa May’s Chequers deal endanger her hold on Leave voters?

Whatever deal she strikes, voters will be told May has failed.

By Stephen Bush

Are the Conservatives under threat electorally if they implement a soft Brexit? That’s the claim that a number of pro-Brexit commentators are making and it is part of why a series of MPs in marginal seats – including most recently Ben Bradley, the MP for Mansfield – have quit their posts at the foothills of the government.

The academic Matthew Goodwin has also sounded a note of warning, telling Conservative MPs that they run the risk of losing Leave voters, either through defection or abstention, from a “soft sell-out deal”.

Is this fear true? It is certainly true that the Conservatives are only in office thanks to Leave voters. Their “small town firewall” of Swindon, Stafford, Nuneaton and so on, which also prevented them from being truly embarrassed in the local elections this year, are why Theresa May is in Downing Street and not Jeremy Corbyn.

But I am not convinced that a “soft” (or “sell-out” if that’s your thing) deal is necessarily that big of a problem. Ask yourself a simple question: imagine that you are the average Leave voter: i.e., you are a retired 60something living in a small town without much immigration. What does a “sell-out” Brexit look like to you? Indeed, what does a “successful” Brexit look like to you?

Focus groups consistently show that it means very little to do with the institutional relationship the United Kingdom has with the European Union: the big priorities are more and better jobs (for their children and grandchildren), control over immigration and crucially delivering on the promise of £350m extra a week for the NHS. This is why the planned spending increase to the health service is so important for the success of Brexit as a political project, and by extension the party who are identified with it (i.e. the Tories).

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

So it’s not clear to me how, if you are a Leave voter, anything in May’s Chequers proposals is going to immediately spell “sell-out” to you. And indeed it is not clear to me full-stop how a soft Brexit makes itself felt on the day-to-day life of the average Leave voter.

What Leave voters will actually base their impression of how Brexit has worked out will be cues from trusted members of the political elite, or, in other words, from prominent politicians, media outlets and public figures who backed a Leave vote.

Which puts the Conservatives in a difficult position. You can see how it is in the interests of both the present government and the Labour leadership to broadly declare May’s soft deal a satisfactory resolution of the Brexit issue so they can fight the next election on a platform of “Isn’t Corbyn awful?” and “Our economic model is broken” respectively rather than having to focus on the European Union. But it is not in the interests of many individual politicians in both parties, let alone other political actors.

If you are Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage or Jacob Rees-Mogg you want to have a continued political existence as the face of “real Brexit”. If you are the Telegraph you want to outflank your rivals among the pro-Brexit press.

There is an interesting countervailing force here which may help the Conservatives: voters also take their cues from publications, public figures and politicians they don’t like, and enough pro-Remain public figures will be loudly disappointed that it may bail out May’s deal.

But whatever deal Theresa May strikes, enough people will have an interest in describing it as a “betrayal” or a disappointment for the detail to be irrelevant. Which is an electoral problem for the Conservative Party, but it does at least free her from worrying about whether the policy detail is an electoral drag.

Content from our partners
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE
Labour's health reforms can put patients first
Data science can help developers design future-proof infrastructure

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU