Tories set to suffer 'Brexit penalty' in local elections if Theresa May fails to strike a deal
The Conservatives are heading for major losses in next month's council elections unless Theresa May strikes a Brexit deal before then, according to a Tory peer.
Elections expert Lord Hayward also said the Lib Dems rather than Labour were poised to be the main beneficiaries of a Tory collapse.
A total of 8,374 council seats in England are up for grabs on 2 May, as well as 460 in Northern Ireland.
When the same wards were contested four years ago, on the same day as the 2015 general election, the Conservatives gained 504 councillors, with Labour losing 238, the Lib Dems losing 425 and Ukip gaining 112.
Lord Hayward said the Conservatives will inevitably lose seats this time around, but how badly they do will depend on the outcome of the Prime Minister's attempts to get a Brexit deal through Parliament.
He said: "I have no doubt in my own mind that there is a Brexit benefit to the Government if there is a deal. The corollary of that is a loss.
"There is clearly a deficit to the Tory party to not having a deal. There's no question about it and if you speak to most of the MPs they will say exactly the same thing. They want a deal so that they can go out on the doorstep at the last minute and say 'we've got a deal'. But if there isn't a deal the Tories have a disadvantage."
The former elections adviser to David Cameron added: "If the elections were held tomorrow, the Tories would do badly, but the losses would be to the Lib Dems, with some to the Labour party.
"But the question mark hanging over Labour is the extent to which they make gains. My expectation is that the Tory losses will be to the Lib Dems."
Of the seats up for grabs, the Tories have 4,628 councillors, Labour 2,069 and the Lib Dems 641 seats.
The Conservatives control 135 councils, while Labour runs 67 and the Lib Dems control seven.
Lord Hayward also revealed that the Tories are standing candidates in 96% of the available seats, with Labour contesting 77%, the Lib Dems 53%, the Greens 30% and Ukip just 16%.
He said it was a "surprise" that Labour - which claims to have around 500,000 members - were not contesting nearly one in four available seats.
"I had expected their local contestation to grow further than it has, because it is so far behind the Conservative Party," he said.