A European nation

If opinion in Britain is steadily warming towards the EU, many assumptions driving politics will have to change

 

Share

The assumption is widespread today that Britons are naturally Eurosceptic – that history and geography have given us a completely different perspective on Europe from that of our neighbours on the Continent.

With the exception of the Liberal Democrats, most politicians act as if it is obvious that few votes are to be had in sounding pro-European and that the trick is either to sound witheringly contemptuous of the EU or just avoid talking about it.

But are they barking up the wrong tree? A new survey – which will have diehard Eurosceptics choking on their breakfast – shows not only that most Britons support the European project but also that we are now more pro-European than a number of countries that were once rock solid on the subject.

The Pew Research Centre’s findings show that 54 per cent of Britons “look favourably” on the European project, well up from only 45 per cent back in 2012. Of the seven nations surveyed, this puts us ahead of the Spaniards, Italians and Greeks and roughly abreast with the French. Only the Germans and Poles are markedly more pro-European than we are.

The figures are also startling because they suggest that while Britons have become more pro-European since 2012, the other countries in the survey, except for Poland, are travelling in the opposite direction. As our love for Europe waxes, theirs wanes and, if the trend continues, Britain will be much more pro-European than most EU member states in a few years’ time – again, with the exception of Poland and Germany.

The results will not necessarily have the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, hurriedly rewriting his manifesto for the forthcoming European parliamentary elections. Even if more than half of the UK population are broadly pro-European, just under half are not, so a large pool of anti-European votes exists for a flamboyantly Eurosceptic party to fish in.

Moreover, it may be that Eurosceptics feel more passionate about their cause than Europhiles do about theirs, in which case the former will still trump the latter in elections. Nevertheless, the mere fact that pro-Europeans form a silent majority in modern Britain will come as a revelation to many, shattering many a hoary myth about what makes this country tick.

With a general election looming next year, the implications are potentially significant for all the parties. For the Liberal Democrats, there is consolation. They may be slaughtered in the European elections this month, but the Pew Centre’s findings vindicate Nick Clegg in his refusal to apologise for his party’s pro-European values.

David Cameron’s advisers might also draw some comfort from the survey, as it suggests that his strategy of seeking a looser arrangement with Brussels while keeping Britain in the club matches many people’s approximate standpoint.

This is indicated by other results in the same survey, which show that a broadly pro-European sentiment in Britain does not translate into confidence in Europe’s main institutions. The lesson for all the big parties is that while Euroscepticism is a force to be reckoned with, it is also in retreat – in which case getting into a bidding war with Ukip over who can sound more Europhobic is a fool’s errand.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
New SNP MP Mhairi Black distinguished herself in Westminster straight away when she made herself a chip butty in the canteen  

The SNP adventure arrives in Westminister - but how long before these new MPs go native?

Katy Guest
The Public Accounts Committee found widespread concern among civil servants that they would be victimised if they spoke out about wrongdoing  

Nikileaks explained: The sad thing about the Nicola Sturgeon saga is that it makes leaks less likely

Jane Merrick
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?