Which side did politicians really want to win the EU referendum?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
October 12, 2016, 5:11 PM GMT+0

Around one in five people believe that Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn both wanted Brexit, despite campaigning to Remain

"That press conference by Boris felt a bit like a funeral". So spoke Alastair Campbell after watching Boris Johnson's victory speech (pictured above) once the result of the EU referendum campaign became known.

There have long been claims that Boris secretly wanted Britain to stay in the EU, but was campaigning to leave because it would improve his chances of becoming Prime Minister. The latest such claim came from Sir Alan Duncan in a BBC documentary at the tail end of last month, in which he said that he believed Boris wanted the Leave campaign to lose narrowly and allow him to position himself as the heir apparent to Cameron.

Recriminations abounded over politicians’ true intentions throughout and after the EU referendum campaign. As well as speculation about Boris, Jeremy Corbyn also came under constant criticism for his lacklustre campaigning which many people claimed was because he secretly wanted Britain to leave the European Union.

New YouGov research can now reveal that it is Corbyn whose referendum stance people least believe. More than one in five people (21%) think that the Labour leader secretly wanted Brexit, with Remain voters slightly more convinced this is the case than Leave voters (24% vs 20%).

Theresa May’s numbers are not far behind. Nearly one in five people (18%) believe that the Prime Minister secretly wanted a Brexit result, again with Remain voters more suspicious of her true desires than Leave voters (23% vs 15%).

Despite Sir Alan Duncan’s claims, people are somewhat more trusting of Boris, with 12% of people suspect that the foreign secretary did not want Brexit (including 16% of Remain voters and 8% of Leave voters).

By contrast, David Cameron and Nigel Farage are seen as the most honest in their intentions – just 4% and 2% respectively believe that didn’t want the side they campaigned for to win.

Submarine May

David Cameron was reportedly furious with Theresa May during the EU referendum campaign for not actively campaigning for Remain. Despite having come out in favour of remaining in the European Union May was not visible during the campaign, appearing in only one TV interview, earning herself the nickname ‘Submarine May’.

Whilst 83% of people were aware that David Cameron campaigned for Remain, this figure drops to 53% for Theresa May. Nearly one in five (17%) believe that she did not campaign for either side during the referendum.

Jeremy Corbyn – that other unenthusiastic Remainer – was seen in similar terms, with 56% of people aware that Corbyn campaigned to remain in the EU, whilst 14% believed he didn’t campaign for either side and 7% thought he campaigned to Leave.

Photo: PA

See the full results here and here

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