EU Referendum

EU politics: sleepwalking towards an exit?


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One of the absolutes in the minds of many who call themselves "eurosceptics" is the belief that the EU will go to any lengths to keep the UK in the Union, to the extent that they have even convinced themselves that Article 50 is a "trap" designed to prevent us from ever leaving.

However, a new poll, published in the Observer today (with more details here) indicates a certain lack of enthusiasm for Britain's continued membership, so much so that they may even be glad to see the back of us.

This comes from a "landmark survey" of more than 5,000 voters in the UK, Germany, France and Poland, carried out by Opinium for the Observer newspaper.

Amongst other things, the polling company finds that just 26 percent of British voters regard the EU as, overall, a "good thing" compared with 42 percent who say it is a "bad thing". In Poland 62 percent approve of the EU, and only 13 percent think it bad. Germany scores 55 percent good and 17 percent bad, and in France 36 percent go for good and 34 percent bad.

Significantly, though, when voters of the three mainland countries are asked about the UK's contribution to the EU, there is little enthusiasm for us, and little to suggest they will go out of their way to keep us in. Just nine percent of Germans and fifteen percent of French people think the UK is a positive influence on the EU. Even further east, the Poles can only muster 33 percent in support of the UK.

By contrast, when it comes to accommodating Mr Cameron's pretensions about renegotiating the treaties, only 16 percent of German and 26 percent of French respondents back the idea of a special deal being struck for the UK.

This brings us to the idea of Britain leaving the EU, a prospect that does not appear to worry our "partners" very much. Just 24 percent of French voters said a UK exit would have a negative effect, compared with 36 percent of Germans. Only the Poles could manage a small majority of 51 percent to say that we might be missed.

The findings lead the likes of former Tory foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to call for an "urgent fightback" against spiralling "anti-European" sentiment, with Rifkind suggesting that there needed " … to be a serious debate about the real benefits of – as well as the real problems about – British membership of the EU". Without that, he reckons, "we could do serious damage to Britain's interests".

Clegg, on the other hand, declares that next year's euro-elections represent a key test and attacks "those intent on taking Britain out of the EU". He thus says, "Everybody knows the EU needs reform. But simply carping from the sidelines and flirting with exit undermines British leadership in the EU, fails to deliver reform and leaves Britain increasingly isolated".

Bizarrely, the man holds that the debate about Europe is no longer about who is for or against reform. "Everybody agrees on that", he says. "It is between those who believe we can lead in the EU and those who want to head for the exit". The Lib-Dems, he declares, will be the leading party of "in".

Obviously feeling the pressure, Clegg wants to challenge UKIP and large swaths of the Conservative party "who want to betray Britain's vital national interest by pulling us out of the world's largest borderless single market, on which millions of jobs depend".

As always, therefore, there is the attempt to elide EU membership with participation in the Single Market, with the usual dose of FUD about jobs. This is mirrored by Labour MP and former Europe minister Peter Hain. Predictably, he urges "pro-Europeans" to stand up and fight.

"This is a wake-up call for British pro-Europeans that Britain", says Hain, "especially if the Tories win the next election – is heading for an exit from the EU which would be an utter disaster for British jobs, prosperity and influence in the world". But, he then says, "it is equally a wake-up call for the Brussels Bubble, which is totally out of touch with Europe's citizens".