Boris Johnson is the public’s preferred candidate for PM should Theresa May step down – but he is less popular than Jeremy Corbyn and would most likely lose a general election to Labour, a poll for HuffPost UK has revealed.
From a list of leading Tories, the former foreign secretary was backed by 20% of those asked who should take over as prime minister if May is forced to quit before the next election.
Asked who they would prefer as next PM, 29% of those polled backed Corbyn, compared with 25% who said Johnson. In answer to the same question comparing May and Corbyn, May beats Corbyn 27% to 25%.
The results suggest that a Johnson-led Tory party would lose an election to Corbyn’s Labour party.
And Labour appears to have had a conference bounce and now has a 5% lead over the Tories following the party’s gathering in Liverpool last week.
Over 1,000 people were surveyed by BMG Research for HuffPost UK on the eve of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. The conference starts on Sunday amid increasingly bitter divisions over the prime minister’s Brexit strategy.
The poll is grim reading for the prime minister as it reveals that 51% of those asked do not want her to stay in No.10 until the 2022 general election - compared to 23% who think she should.
The findings will add to the sense that this week’s gathering is little more than a beauty parade of potential leadership candidates.
Johnson, who today slammed May’s Brexit deal as “deranged” and “preposterous”, is due to give a speech at the conference on Tuesday.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, he said: “Unlike the prime minister, I campaigned for Brexit.”
In her own interview with the newspaper, May insisted she was not about to quit. “There’s a long-term job to do," she said.
The survey shows the public has noticed the internal Tory war - with 72% of those asked believing the party to be divided. This compares with 62% who say Labour is divided.
As the People’s Vote campaign agitates for another referendum, the survey suggested that if one was held today, Remain would win by 47% to 43%.
Tory leadership race
According to the BMG/HuffPost UK poll:
Boris Johnson is running away with the race on 20% and is the favourite among all age groups and of both Tory and Labour supporters.
He has the support of 30% of Leave voters. But only 8% of those who voted Remain want him in No.10, with 11% instead preferring Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the backbencher who leads the powerful European Research Group of Brexiteer Tories, is on 7%.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who has been endorsed by the Tory leader in local government, won the backing of just 5%.
David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary who also quit over the PM’s Chequers plan, is favoured by 3% of those asked.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a leading Brexiteer who decided to stick with May when Johnson and Davis resigned, has the support of 2%.
Ruth Davidson is the most popular candidate for PM among remain voters, with 11% compared with Johnson’s 8%. Overall 6% support her for PM - but she has ruled out seeking the top job.
Remain backing Chancellor Philip Hammond has the support of 4% of those asked. While former Home Secretary Amber Rudd is wanted by 2%.
Penny Mordaunt, the Brexiteer development secretary who is tipped as potential successor to May, has some work to do. She is preferred by 0%.
Johnson’s only serious current challenger for the keys to N0.10 according to the poll is “don’t know” on 26%.
Labour conference bounce?
Labour and Tories were level pegging last week, now Labour has a 5% lead.
- Conservatives 35% (-3)
- Labour 40% (+2)
- Lib Dems 12% (+2)
- Ukip 5% (nc)
- Other 8% (-1)
Should she stay or should she go?
The poll shows voters do not think May should fight the next election. But they do, on balance, want her in place to complete the Brexit talks which are due to end in mid-2019.
Of those asked, 42% want the PM to stay in place to steer the UK out of the EU compared to 40% who do not.
Leave voters back her to stay in office until after the Brexit negotiations are done by 49% to 37%. While Remain voters also want her to stick it out until March 29, 2019 by 49% to 39%.
But both Leave and Remain voters want May to be gone by the 2022 election. 49% of Leave voters want a new Tory leader in place by then compared to 30% who want her to stay. And 52% of Remain voters want May to be gone by the election compared to 31% who are happy for her to remain in Downing Street.
Johnson’s ‘suicide vest’
Johnson’s decision to compare the prime minister’s Chequers plan for Brexit to a “suicide vest” triggered an immediate backlash from many Tory MPs but today’s polls show that voters were not impressed either.
According to the poll, 42% of Conservative thought his comment made him less prime ministerial, compared to 21% who thought it made him sound more prime ministerial and 37% who said it made no difference.
Overall, 36% of those surveyed said it made him less suited for No.10, 15% said it made him a better candidate to lead the country and 49% said it made no difference.
Last week the Cabinet agreed that EU citizens should not be given preferential treatment in any post-Brexit immigration system.
And in good news for the prime minister, the HuffPost UK/BMG poll shows the public back the plan with 40% of those asked disagreeing with the statement that “EU migrants should get preferential treatment if it means securing an EU trade deal”.
By comparison, 27% thought it should be easier for EU citizens to move to the UK if it helped the British government get a better deal with Brussels. 33% did not agree or disagree.
When it comes to possibly delaying Brexit, of those asked, 38% agree that it is better to leave as planned on March 29, 2019 and then improve the deal (33% disagree and 29% think neither).
However asked if it is a good idea to delay Brexit in order to achieve a trading deal with the EU, 41% agree and 33% disagree.
BMG interviewed a representative sample of 1,203 adults living in Great Britain online on 28th & 29th September 2018. Data are weighted. BMG are members of the British Polling Council (BPC) and abide by their rules. Methodology and full results can be found at www.bmgresearch.co.uk/polling