Public support for Cameron's EU walkout already unravelling

economy, Europe, leadership

Author(s):  Will Straw
Published date:  13 Dec 2011
Source:  Left Foot Forward

Backbench Conservative MPs drew attention yesterday to what they saw as broad public support for David Cameron’s actions in Brussels in the early hours of Friday morning. But while the headline findings support the prime minister, there are already signs that the public is wary of what has happened.

A new YouGov poll for the Sun this morning reinforces yesterday’s Times poll on the public’s broad reaction to Britain walking away from the Franco-German treaty revisions. Although a veto was not technically used, by almost three-to-one (58%–21%), voters think Cameron was right when asked ‘Do you think David Cameron was right or wrong to veto the treaty?’.

Yesterday’s Populus poll for The Times (£) found support at 57%–14% while a Survation poll in the Mail on Sunday found support at 62%–19%.

But more in depth questions by YouGov (pdf) show that the public do not think that the outcome will be a happy one for Britain.

As the charts below show, just 24 per cent think the outcome will be good for Britain (31 per cent say ‘bad’) while a meagre 15 per cent think the summit will be ‘good for the British economy over the next few years’ while 34 per cent think it will be bad:

The latest poll also finds the narrowest support for British withdrawal from the EU in months. Only 43 per cent now want Britain to leave while 36 per cent think Britain should remain a member. As recently as August, 52% said they would vote to leave, while 30% would remain a member.

In a recent IPPR report on ‘Euroscepticism in Britain’ (pdf) I explained the nuances of British public opinion on the European Union with voters deeply hostile to the institution but enthusiastic about closer working on a range of issues including counter-terrorism, climate change, and security policy.

In his commentary on the poll, YouGov president Pete Kellner discusses the long-term implications:

What will people think when the dust settles? At the moment, voters are reacting to the dramas of the past week. In a year or two’s time they will be reacting to the consequences of Cameron’s actions.

If Britain’s economy does better than those in the eurozone, and some kind of calm, however awkward, returns to our relations with the rest of the EU, then the prime minister’s stance will have been vindicated, and his party is likely to be rewarded with extra votes and seats at the next election.

If, however, our economy stumbles and enough voters blame at least part of this on Cameron’s veto, then the Tories could well suffer.

Tory backbenchers would be wise to avoid being too triumphalistic about their leaders’ diplomatic moves.


Our people

Will Straw, Associate Director for Climate Change, Energy and Transport