European Movement UK

Britain's future is with Europe! Join the debate and put your opinion forward!

What is the state of British public opinion on Europe? A recent survey by YouGov for Vote UK out of the EU gave us the headline that a majority of people would vote in a referendum against membership of the EU, but looking behind the headline provides a rather more interesting picture.

Positive about membership?

The question “do you think EU membership has been positive or negative for the United Kingdom?” produced 50 per cent negative as opposed to 29 per cent positive (net -21). This overall negative sentiment is widely but not universally shared.

Political party: Conservative voters are more Eurosceptic (-29) than Labour (-2), with Lib Dem voters actually +21 in favour.

Gender: men were less negative than women: -13 as opposed to -28. Interestingly, throughout the survey, women were twice as likely as men to say “don’t know” (16 per cent, on average, compared with 9 per cent), for reasons I will not speculate on but which everyone reading this will recognise.

Age: voters over the age of 40 are negative about the EU (-36), while those under that age are actually in favour (+6). Is this because younger people have had different experiences and education than the previous generation, or it is simply because they have not become Eurosceptic yet?

Social grade: negative feelings are less prevalent among ABC1s (-10) than among C2DE voters (-26).

Geography: every region of the country is negative, but London (-6) is less negative than elsewhere. Recall that six of the 10 districts that voted Yes in the referendum on electoral reform were also in the capital: London is different.

Economically prosperous

A separate question asked whether Britain is economically stronger in the EU or would be more prosperous outside it. The overall finding was 22 per cent in favour of the EU and 48 per cent against (net -26), with a much higher don’t know score of 15 per cent (as against 6 per cent for overall benefits). Every single breakdown of the voters was negative – political party, gender, age, social grade and geography – with the sole exception of Liberal Democrat voters.

Not even Liberal Democrats could find a majority in favour of further UK participation of bailouts of eurozone countries (-29, compared with -52 for the country as a whole). The notion that, as a non-member of the eurozone, Britain can stay out of its troubles seems to be widely shared.

Should there be a referendum?

Lastly, the survey asked a series of questions about referendums, both on EU membership and on any future treaty, asking whether they should be held and which way one might vote. The headline figures are that, on EU membership, 62 per cent think that their political party should commit to holding such a referendum (27 per cent against) and 51 per cent would vote against membership (27 per cent in favour) were one held. On a new treaty, 59 per cent think there should be a referendum (26 per cent against) and 49 per cent would vote No (13 per cent would vote Yes, 32 per cent don’t know).

The figures show that there is strong support for a public vote on the future of Britain in Europe. Examining the numbers more closely, however, shows that there is a very strong correlation between support for holding a referendum (on EU membership or on a new treaty) and voting No in that referendum. What this suggests is not simply dissatisfaction with the way in which decisions about Britain and Europe have been taken, but rather dissatisfaction with the result of those decisions. A referendum on Europe is the means to reverse the decision of parliament rather than an end in itself.

What this means is that if pro-Europeans wish to win the argument, they have to put the case for Europe and not merely against referendums. If confidence in Britain’s EU membership returns, demands for a referendum against it will diminish.

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  1. Dear friends,
    it is a very interesting article as usual in this blog
    It is very well explained with serious arguments
    I think that is interesting what kind of reasons about
    “Political party: Conservative voters are more Eurosceptic (-29) than Labour (-2), with Lib Dem voters actually +21 in favour”
    Also interesting the international fact about mentality of big cities and small cities
    ” every region of the country is negative, but London (-6) is less negative than elsewhere. Recall that six of the 10 districts that voted Yes in the referendum on electoral reform were also in the capital: London is different”
    This comment shows that things move in Europe, and this idea very much pleases me
    Have a nice day

  2. Having lived and travelled on the mainland, I’m no “Little Englander” but I am a eurosceptic. The UK are a nation of indomitable administrators. EU regulations and legislation are implemented here with a zeal not found in France and have spawned a cottage industry of expert consultants whose influence is tying the economy in knots. We are our own worst enemies. The effects are more noticeable now because of the economic environment. However, the argument for a referendum is fuelled by the inability of pro-europeans to sell the EU in a positive fashion without appearing pompous and overbearing. Equally, obliging organizations to display “Part Funded by the European Regional Development Fund” on pain of significant punishment is seen as the sort of propaganda effort which is easily linked to methods used by the Nazis and Communists. Lastly, whilst hundreds of UK service personnel have died in the name of democracy, the steadfast refusal of UK political leaders to acknowledge electoral clamouring for a referendum is fuelling anti-EU sentiments on an unprecedented scale (in my experience.) The recent parliamentary debate was unnecessarily stifled and demonstrated an appalling lack of leadership amongst all of the main political parties. Perhaps previously, the UK psyche was less susceptible to the extremist influences which blighted other European nations, but failure to acknowledge and address the concerns of the UK electorate with regard to the EU may now spark behaviour that poses challenges for internal security.

  3. Pro-Europeans (perhaps because we don’t much like negative campaigning) have always been poor at exposing the fantasy of those who would like to take us out of the EU. These sceptics seem to assume that outside the EU Britain’s economic and legal life would be transformed – that we would become a kind of sunny Norway and that life would be just the same only better. I think we need to expose the realities – ie that if we want to trade with our European partners we should need to follow all the regulations but without having any input to making them; that our influence when it came to negotiating trade deals with the rest of the world would be negligible; that Britain would not be nearly such an attractive location for inward investment. We also need to make the point more forcibly that the real currency crisis is with sterling which has lost 30 per cent (30 per cent!) of its value against the euro without giving Britain any better growth rate. To leave the EU, far from improving Britain’s lot, would instead just hasten the country’s seemingly inexorable economic decline.

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