In the run up to Britain’s scheduled exit from the European Union on 31 October, HOPE not hate is publishing a series of briefing papers looking at key issues such as public opinion on the way forward, trust in politics, and the impact on communities most at risk of far right activity.

HOPE not hate has long opposed the prospect of a hard Brexit. The economic impact of crashing out of the EU will be felt by communities that have been ignored and hard done by for too long, and create a fertile breeding ground for the far right. 

Boris Johnson is likely to be chosen by members of the Conservative Party to become the UK’s next prime minister. Alongside a range of urgent issues, Johnson will be faced by the prospect of a looming Brexit cliff edge, with Britain’s membership of the EU due to come to an end on 31 October.

Boris Johnson is very likely to be elected as the next leader of the Conservative Party on the back of a strong desire by party members to leave the EU without a deal. However, if Johnson fails to deliver a No Deal Brexit he could find Conservative Party voters and Leave voters more generally turn on him quickly.

We commissioned some polling, alongside Best for Britain, to try and understand what pathway public opinion gives Johnson as he seeks to decide between agreeing to a ‘soft’ Brexit or a No Deal Brexit, or possibly even calling a General Election.

Here’s some of what we found:

  • Voters don’t want to leave with no deal by 45-40, but Conservative voters want a no deal exit by 68-20
  • Over three-quarters of 2017 Tory voters do not think a Brexit deal that means that the UK is still following some EU rules is honouring the 2016 Referendum. Only 9% of Conservative voters believe that a soft Brexit deal is honouring the referendum vote.
  • Separate polling from HOPE not hate on Conservative Party members found that 56% wanted the UK to leave the EU without a deal, with only 34% backing a soft Brexit deal and only 9% wanting Brexit reversed entirely. 
  • Most voters don’t believe Boris can secure a better deal from Brussels. Even amongst Tory voters, there is little optimism that he will secure a better deal. Only 34% of 2017 Tory voters think Johnson could get a better deal with the EU whilst 58% think he cannot.
  • While Boris Johnson is set to romp home in the leadership contest, Tory voters in this poll have a clear warning for him: don’t compromise on Brexit:
    • 46% of Conservative voters would have a less favourable view of Johnson if Brexit happens with a deal that see the UK following some EU rules and regulations
    • 39% say they would have a more favourable view of Johnson if he takes Britain out with no deal on 31 October
    • 57% say they would have a less favourable view of Johnson if Britain does not leave the EU on 31 October.
  • Despite his comfortable win in the Conservative Party leadership election, he is still not viewed especially favourably by Conservative voters. ‘Intelligent’, ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘Buffoon’ are the three words that are most associated with Johnson amongst Tory voters. Amongst voters as a whole, Johnson’s reputation is even weaker with the three words most associated with him being, ‘irresponsible’, ‘untrustworthy’, ‘self-seeking’ buffoon’.

The danger for Johnson is that by flirting with the idea of idea of no deal, and reassuring that all will be well, he is marching people up the hill without a plan on what to do when he gets there. Either he will outrage the majority of voters by going for a no deal, or he will outrage his core support by agreeing to a soft Brexit. Perceptions of him as out of his depth, incompetent and a ‘buffoon’ suggest he has no reservoir of credibility to lean back on if and when the crunch moment comes.

Boris Johnson has hinted at a no deal Brexit which most voters oppose but which his own base craves. At the same time, few people have confidence he can negotiate a better deal from Brussels. A ‘no deal’ Brexit would have a devastating impact on communities already struggling but Boris Johnson has little room for manoeuvre because of his posturing during the last few months. What Britain needs is for the politicians to come together and work out a process that can bring the country together, and ultimately giving the final say to the voters.

Read the full Brexit Briefing here (pdf).