Two veteran Conservatives say they don’t believe that more than half of Tory Party members would be willing to see Northern Ireland split from the United Kingdom if it meant delivering Brexit.
Colonel Bob Stewart MP and Lord Tebbit were responding to a YouGov poll of almost 900 Tory Party members which also found that 20% would be happy to see Northern Ireland leave the UK, regardless of the Brexit issue.
According to the survey, 59% would prioritise leaving the EU even if it meant Northern Ireland breaking away from the rest of the UK, while 63% of members would be prepared to see Brexit take place even if it meant Scotland leaving the Union.
It also found that some 61% would rather Brexit took place even if it caused “significant damage” to the economy, and 54% would accept the Tory party “being destroyed” in order to secure Brexit.
Only 39% said they would want Brexit to take place if it meant Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister, with 51% saying they would rather the UK did not leave to avoid that happening.
The survey of party members – who will decide the next prime minister – suggests that almost half (46%) would be happy to see the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage as their new leader.
It also found 26% of Tory members would be happy to see Scotland leave the UK, but fewer (20%) would feel the same if Northern Ireland did so, regardless of Brexit.
Colonel Stewart, who served in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, was sceptical about the findings relating to Northern Ireland.
“I don’t believe a word of it,” he told the News Letter. “I can only speak for myself, but I’d be very surprised if that was the case.”
Asked about the figures for Scotland, the MP for Beckenham laughed, saying: “Ah, that’s different. They’re not happy. But the Scots keep pestering us. They get a hell of a lot of money out of England, so people like those in my constituency might well have a different view. Each Scottish person gets £1,300 a year more than each English person from the central government.”
Asked about the amount of money Northern Ireland gets from the government, he added: “We think Northern Ireland is special. And it doesn’t whinge the whole time about wanting to leave the United Kingdom.
“I am dead up for the Union, I am dead up for Northern Ireland and I just don’t believe that (the survey findings about Northern Ireland).”
Lord Tebbit, a former MP, Cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative Party, commented: “These surveys are coming so thick and fast upon us that they are beginning to cease to have meaning.”
Lord Tebbit was injured in the IRA bomb attack on the Grand Hotel, Brighton during the 1984 Conservative Party conference. His wife, Margaret, was left permanently disabled by the blast.
Stressing his support for the Union, he added: “I am absolutely still a unionist and I regret that we are not still designated the Conservative and Unionist Party.”
Rubbishing the findings of the survey, a DUP spokesman said: “This is a survey based on hypothetical questions where 67% say they would vote for a tin man with a big brain and 54% said they would rather have their party destroyed than no Brexit. No one is taking this survey seriously.
“Across the UK, there is incredible frustration within the leave voting electorate that the result is being thwarted. The referendum result must be respected and implemented. To do otherwise is to undermine democracy.
“We will play our part to defend the Union, promote the Union and ensure the referendum result is implemented.”
YouGov’s Matthew Smith said Conservative members are not just ideologically committed to Brexit, but also genuinely believe that the failure to deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum will bring about the destruction of the party’s electoral chances, with 51% saying it would damage the party to the extent that it will never lead a government again.
YouGov surveyed 892 Conservative Party members on June 11-14.
According to the House of Commons Library, as of April last year the party had 124,000 members.
• Sinn Fein MLA welcomes findings of YouGov survey
The results of the YouGov survey of Conservative Party members show “overwhelming support” for the reunification of Ireland, a Sinn Fein MLA has claimed.
Reacting to the finding that 59% of Tory members would be willing to see Northern Ireland leave the UK if it meant Brexit being delivered, Upper Bann MLA John O’Dowd said: “Clearly, it is now dawning on many Tory Party members that, if they are to have the kind of hard Brexit they wish to have, then the obvious solution to the impact of that on Ireland is Irish reunification. It is a conclusion that more and more people are coming to every day.
“With such overwhelming support for reunification within the self-declared Conservative and Unionist Party, it is obviously time to begin preparing for an Irish unity referendum.”