The Continentalist: Getting the U.K. Off the Sidelines in Europe

The Continentalist: Getting the U.K. Off the Sidelines in Europe

A plurality of Britons would like to leave the European Union if they could, with 48 percent supporting an EU exit against just 31 percent who would prefer to stay. However, most of them -- 63 percent -- don’t think this will happen. That’s perhaps the only optimistic figure of a recently released Chatham House and YouGov poll, showing that Britons understand and are resigned to the key consequence of globalization: Cooperation and multilateralism trump bilateralism or “going it alone.” Thus, the U.K. is not yet completely a lost cause for continental Europe.

But it is close, as the rest of this devastating poll on British sentiments toward Europe demonstrates. Of course, this is not surprising, given the state of British public discourse about Europe ever since the U.K. joined the EU: British politicians, who have never truly committed themselves to flying the European flag, consistently fail to tell their citizens what the U.K. actually gets out of its EU membership. The poll’s breakdown figures on party affiliation do show a notable difference between the British left and Conservatives: Only 29 percent of the latter would vote for the U.K. staying in Europe, compared to 38 percent of Labor adherents and 59 percent of the Liberal Democrats. Though far from a triumphant legacy for former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his European ambitions for the U.K., this is nonetheless a relative victory.

Today, the EU is a “bad thing” for 43 percent of Britons and a “good thing” for just 23 percent, a figure that fell from 36 percent in 2004. With a significant proportion of Britons being either agnostic or ignorant about the EU (27 percent replied “neither/nor” and 8 percent “don’t know”), that is not enough support to even begin thinking about the bold projects such as political union or fiscal integration that continental Europe seems to be readying for. Clearly the British think fixing the euro is a job for the continent: Only 3 percent want a full European government and only 7 percent a more-integrated European Union. In Germany, by comparison, at least 35 percent of citizens support more European integration.

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