Sunday 19 January 2020

Half of British voters 'would chose to leave the EU in referendum'

Half of British voters would chose to leave the European Union if they were offered the choice in a referendum, a poll has found.

The survey will fuel the growing political debate about Britain’s future place in the EU, which has seen even Cabinet ministers suggesting that the UK would prosper outside the union.

It was published a day after Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, publicly urged David Cameron to resist growing Conservative pressure for an exit and keep Britain in the EU.

The YouGov poll showed that 49pc of voters would vote to leave the EU in a referendum. Twenty-eight per percent said they would opt to remain a member, while 17pc said they did not know how they would vote.

The poll, of 1,637 British adults, was carried out late last month and also showed that most Britons do not believe their country has much sway over European affairs.

Only 29pc of voters said they consider Britain to be influential within the EU. Forty five per cent said Britain has little clout in Europe.

British voters are also gloomy about the future of the EU: 65pc said they are pessimistic about the union’s prospects, while only 22pc were optimistic.

The Prime Minister has said he does not want to have a referendum on EU membership, arguing that remaining inside the union is in Britain’s best interests.

Instead, he has proposed negotiating changes in Britain’s membership to reduce the impact of EU rules on British life. Those changes could be put to the people in a referendum, Mr Cameron has said.

The Prime Minister’s policy does not go far enough for some Conservatives, including members of his Cabinet. They say the party should be willing to consider offering voters the choice of leaving the EU altogether.

Some Conservative advocates of a tougher line on Europe are worried about the rise of the UK Independence Party, which has seen its poll ratings rise over the last year.

Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, said that the poll showed that Mr Cameron’s European policy is increasingly untenable.

He said: “It is clearer and clearer that the people of this country want out of the European Union. The 49pc are not looking for Cameron’s renegotiations, and a punt into the long grass. They want out.”

Some members of the Labour Party are also keen to take a more critical approach to Britain’s place in the EU.

The British political drift towards scepticism over Europe has alarmed some European leaders, who worry that the result could be a British departure from the union.

Mrs Merkel made her unexpected appeal to Mr Cameron before meeting the Prime Minister in London to discuss the EU budget, which has emerged as the latest focus for British political unease over Europe.

Fifty-three Conservative MPs last week united with Labour to back a Commons amendment telling Mr Cameron to seek a real-terms cut in the EU’s 2014 – 2020 budget at a summit later this month.

Mr Cameron has said that such a cut is impossible to deliver, saying his objective is a freeze in Brussels spending instead.

By James Kirkup

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