Eight out of ten Britons wants a referendum on their country’s relationship with the European Union, reports a survey published in The Times. With the ruling Conservative Party increasingly Euroskeptic, there is a chance that the United Kingdom could even leave the EU.
The growing opposition to European Union membership is fueled in part by the British government. When Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne takes to the opinion pages of The Sunday Telegraph to suggest that the recovery in his country “is being killed off by the crisis on our doorstep,” it can hardly inspire confidence in the economic benefits which, according to Prime Minister David Cameron, membership provide.
Cameron won praise at home late last year when he vetoed a European fiscal compact which forced countries that signed to it to write deficit and debt limits into their national laws. The British leader insisted that the United Kingdom “remains a full member of the EU” and told Parliament, “We are a trading nation and we need the single market for trade, investment and jobs.”
Under Conservative leadership, that is all Britain wants from Europe. The right-wing newspaper The Telegraph urged the coalition government this weekend to “resist pressure” to participate in bailout schemes of highly indebted eurozone nations. “Britain’s taxpayers will not foot the bill for the euro’s failures.”
At the London School of Economics’ European Politics and Policy blog, Tim Bale observes that The Telegraph‘s view is reflective of the Conservative Party’s. “The Tories are moving, seemingly inexorably, from ‘soft’ Euroskepticism (a critique of the EU and how it currently functions) toward “hard” Euroskepticism (the belief that membership of the EU is inimical to the national interest).” David Cameron, he adds, “seems unwilling or unable to tell them ‘no’.”
The rise of Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party explains in part the Conservatives’ mounting apprehension to further political integration with Europe. As David Downing wrote at the Atlantic Sentinel last month, even if Farage’s anti-Europeans takes just 5 percent of the right-wing vote in 2015’s parliamentary election, “the Conservatives may find it extremely hard to win a majority.” That could force them into another coalition with the otherwise pro-European Liberal Democrats.
Bale insists that if there is a referendum on European Union membership, “the smart money still says that a strong campaign focusing on the economic consequences of exit could still win the day for supporters of the EU.” But according to The Times‘s poll, just 32 percent of Britons want the United Kingdom to remain part of the single market against 40 percent who do not. 27 percent are undecided. Whether in an election or a referendum, they will eventually decide Britain’s future in Europe.