We know that Britain’s electorate is divided on the European Union, and that Ukip has tapped into a rich vein of EU-phobia. But what about Europe in a broader context—its people, geography, nations and civic life? Are we as wary of them as we are of the phenomenon that signifies so much more than the capital of Belgium: “Brussels”?
The short answer is no. A YouGov survey for Prospect in the lead up to the European Parliament elections finds that most of us would prefer to live on the European mainland if we were sure our living standards would not fall. One reason is that most of us have doubts about our own country. Few of us think we can claim the best public services, friendliest people or—and for many, this is the clincher—the best weather. These things matter more to us than the things we reckon we do better than other EU countries: our democracy and the standard of our policing.
One striking finding is that relatively few people align their views on the EU to their views on “Europe.” For example, opponents of British membership of the EU are just as likely as supporters to say they would like to live on the continent. And there is little difference between the two sides as to which European country has the highest living standards, best public services, finest democracy, best police or friendliest people.
So what does distinguish “in” voters from “out” voters? Our survey finds that those who would vote to remain in the EU are more likely to have close friends or relatives living in Europe. Those with these connections would vote by almost two-to-one in favour of continued EU membership. Those without them would vote narrowly for withdrawal.
The strongest pro-European groups are Scottish voters, Londoners, the middle classes and those under 30—along with Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters. Opponents tend to be older and more working class as well as Conservatives or, overwhelmingly, Ukip supporters—the only surprise there is that 4 per cent of Ukip supporters say they would vote to stay in the EU).