One of the UK ‘Leave’ campaign’s favourite mantras in the run-up to the June 23 referendum is that the Europeans need the Brits more than we need them. (On trade its spokesmen lump all 27 other EU members together and, surprise, surprise, collectively they export more to the UK than vice versa…). So, presumably, they’re all clamouring for Britain to ‘Remain’ but getting ready for the sad day that may come.
A recent survey of 8000 people in six prominent EU countries – Germany, France, Poland, Spain, Ireland and Sweden – gives us a better, more accurate glimpse of what the ‘Rest’ thinks. Carried out in late January/early February by researchers from Edinburgh University and German think tank d/part.de, it shows overwhelming majorities wanting the UK to remain: from 81 percent in Poland and 80 percent in Spain to 57 percent in (perfidious) France.
But respondents are less certain membership is good for Britain (from 62 percent in Ireland to 45 percent in Sweden) or, indeed, for the EU itself (from 68 percent in Ireland to 40 percent in France). And they’re certainly much less keen on rewarding the UK with any favours if it decides to quit: voters in Spain and France say it should not be allowed back into the single market. British exceptionalism clearly can only be tolerated for so long.
What is perhaps most interesting about the survey is the degree of euroscepticism it highlights in other big EU countries. Remain would carry the day if a similar referendum were held in each of the six but only by 45-33 in France and 42-37 in Sweden. And sizeable minorities in five of them (up to 49 percent in Sweden) would like their own plebiscite with the French, no doubt reflecting the rising popularity of Marine Le Pen’s Front National, 53 percent in favour.
At a recent presentation of the findings in Edinburgh, the doyen of UK pollsters, Prof John Curtice of Strathclyde University, commented that they underlined how Eurosceptic the Brits have become since they last voted on the EU in 1975 or, indeed, from the peak of pro-EU sentiment in the late 1980s/early 1990s. “We’re as sceptical as we’ve ever been,” he said, with 65 percent of Brits wanting reduced powers for “Brussels” versus 52 percent in Sweden (where right-wing nationalists are also gaining ground) and just 36 percent in Germany.
And, underlining recent warnings on complacency about Scottish voting intentions, Prof Curtice says 60 percent of Scots are Eurosceptic on that measure. But only 22 percent favour withdrawal according to his analysis of recent trends. Why? Because being pro-EU is (unlike in 1975) part of nationalist aspirations – a key element of the SNP independence playbook – among other things.
What also emerges from his analysis is that Brits don’t feel “European” in the way they might have done a generation or more ago (though this is untrue of younger people). Rather, almost half (47 percent) think the EU is undermining Britain’s distinctive identity. (This also reflects the more widespread phenomenon of pride in nationalism/localism and fear of the wider world felt by the losers of globalization.) People of my generation who voted Yes 40 years ago now tend towards Leave and Brits as a whole have little sense of solidarity with their fellow Europeans. (Let alone with migrants fleeing war or eastern Europeans seeking a better life in the UK).
So, why vote Remain? One clear reason that emerges from these findings and the Curtice analysis is that, well, being in the EU is better for the economy and for jobs and, most of all, for Britain’s influence in the world. As the veteran pollster put it: “Our relationship with Brussels is entirely transactional.” And this is despite the fact (as I pointed out) that the European/Eurozone economy is hardly blazing ahead.
This underlines that the campaign to Leave the EU may only succeed if it convinces voters that the British economy would perform significantly better if the UK quit. So far, there’s little sign they’re even remotely doing that (since their arguments and the evidence these are based upon are deeply flawed). It also underlines the path ahead for those of us in the Remain camp: relentlessly stressing the economic benefits of being a member and, what’s more, how these will improve as the European economy improves. The fact is: the UK and Europe need each other.
You can read more about the findings here