Poll blow for PM as more than half of Tory members back no-deal Brexit

Theresa May's bid to get Tory MPs to back her Brexit plan suffered a setback as a new poll showed more than half of Conservative Party members prefer a no-deal withdrawal.

In a three-way choice, 57% of grassroots Tories said they would support leaving the EU without an agreement, while 23% would back the Prime Minister's deal and 15% would choose to remain. A total of 5% had no preference.

A two-way referendum would see 29% of Tory members endorse the PM's stance, with 64% voting for a no-deal Brexit, according to the YouGov poll funded by Economic and Social Research Council.

The overwhelming rejection of Mrs May's deal shown in the survey comes at a crucial time for the PM as she faces a crunch Commons vote on her plans.

After Mrs May suddenly pulled a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in December because it faced a significant defeat, MPs are to begin debating the proposals again next Wednesday with a vote scheduled for the following week.

The poll findings came as Mrs May's Brexit agenda was hit by a series of blows.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds insisted his party's opposition to Irish border backstop proposals had not lessened after a meeting with the Prime Minister on Thursday.

Mr Dodds said: "The Withdrawal Agreement, as currently proposed, flies in the face of the Government's commitments on Northern Ireland as we leave the EU."

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there could be no changes to the backstop (Niall Carson/PA)

However, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted there could be no changes to the backstop, which is intended to prevent a hard border in Ireland by ensuring the UK abides by EU customs rules if no trade deal is agreed by the end of a Brexit transition period.

Mr Varadkar said he had spoken to German chancellor Angela Merkel by telephone on Thursday and the two leaders agreed to "stand by" the Brexit deal.

He said: "We're happy to offer reassurances and guarantees to the UK, but not reassurances and guarantees that contradict or change what was agreed back in November."

And as the EU closed ranks, the European Commission confirmed "no further meetings are foreseen" with the UK on updating Mrs May's Brexit deal because negotiations have concluded.

Mrs May is pressing European leaders for more flexibility on the Irish backstop as a way of garnering more backbench support for her exit plans.

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