The British people know their future lies with Europe

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The Independent Online

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister said he wanted to re-establish Britain as the bridge that would reconcile the United States and Europe. What he did not say was that this bridge had come to grief largely as a result of his decision to join the US invasion of Iraq rather than the group of European countries that dissented. On this occasion, as he ruefully told his party conference this year, there was no third way.

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister said he wanted to re-establish Britain as the bridge that would reconcile the United States and Europe. What he did not say was that this bridge had come to grief largely as a result of his decision to join the US invasion of Iraq rather than the group of European countries that dissented. On this occasion, as he ruefully told his party conference this year, there was no third way.

Mr Blair's judgement was that, when the chips were down, Britain's best interests lay in its alliance with the US. The people of Britain - according to the poll we commissioned and report today - beg to differ. Asked whether it was more important for Britain to have good relations with other countries in Europe or the United States, the response was unequivocal. An impressive majority - 64 per cent - opted for Europe, compared with only 25 per cent who opted for the United States.

It is possible, of course, that this choice has been influenced by the war in Iraq and that a poll conducted 18 months ago would have had a different result. But, as government spokespeople like to say: "We are where we are." And where we are is not marooned mid-Atlantic in our insularity, nor desperately trying to throw a bridge across the Atlantic (or repair it), but plying reasonably happily to and fro across the Channel and through the Tunnel.

This is a remarkably encouraging result, which shows that we Britons are, in fact, far less negative in our attitude towards Europe than we think we are. We may be suspicious of Europe and hesitant to join it wholeheartedly - the question we asked did not probe the emotional aspects of our complicated relations with the Continent - but we are realistic. By more than two to one, we believe that our interests are bound more closely with Europe than with the United States.

One implication is that the prospects for a "yes" vote in the promised referendum on the European Union Constitution may not be as hopeless as they are often presented. Ministers and pro-Europeans need to get out there and start campaigning. We now know that the majority in this country accept that our future lies with Europe. We need to make the most of it.

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