Tuesday

25th Feb 2020

Survey marks EU optimism on eve of UK's Brexit election

  • London: Voting to start 7AM on Thursday (Photo: Davide D'Amico)

Most Europeans believe their country ought to stay in the EU, as British people prepare to vote in a Brexit-dominated election.

Some 59 percent of people told a European Parliament poll, published on Tuesday (10 December), that EU membership was a "good thing".

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  • General pro-EU sentiment up five points since UK referendum on Brexit (Photo: European Parliament)

The figure was five points higher than before the Brexit referendum in mid-2016.

It also rose to a peak of 81 percent in Ireland, which has seen the EU defend its interests in Brexit talks on trade and open borders.

Support stood at 76 percent in Germany and 58 percent in France - the EU core.

It was over 60 percent in Hungary and Poland, despite the Hungarian and Polish hard-right governments' clashes with EU institutions.

But it stood at just 42 percent in the UK and at 37 percent in Italy - the lowest figure in all of Europe, in one of its six founding members.

The British figure might be read as meaning that even a second referendum would not halt Brexit.

But the EU survey noted that "against the backdrop of the Brexit scenario and its unclear future, it is interesting to observe that the United Kingdom is the only country with a massive increase in undecided opinions as to EU membership."

Some "31 percent of British respondents (an increase of 11 percentage points compared to June 2019) see EU membership as neither a good nor bad thing for the UK," the survey said.

The EU poll came out as British people prepared to vote on Thursday (12 December) in another snap election both prompted and dominated by Brexit wrangling.

The pro-Brexit Conservative Party of prime minister Boris Johnson was on course to win with 43 percent compared to the pro-second referendum Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn on 34 percent, according to British pollster YouGov.

The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats had 12 percent support and the anti-EU Brexit Party had three percent.

If Johnson gets the 339 seats out of 650 in the House of Commons that the poll indicated, that would mean Brexit would almost certainly happen at the end of January, as planned.

But YouGov's margin of error, as well as a history of late swings toward Labour in recent elections, meant the vote could end in a hung parliament, coalition talks, and further uncertainty.

The party leaders are to spend Wednesday criss-crossing the UK on the campaign trail before voting starts at 7AM on Thursday and ends at 10PM the same day.

Johnson and Corbyn's colourful personalities, the parlous state of the British health service, police funding, affordable housing, and climate change have also featured in pre-election debates.

But Brexit has stayed top of the agenda, including a last-minute row on whether there would be a de-facto customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK under Johnson's Brexit deal, fracturing the kingdom.

He has said no.

But Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said on Tuesday: "Goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will need to have some checks to ensure that the EU knows what is potentially coming into their market through Northern Ireland".

And Ireland-facing British ports, such as Liverpool, were already preparing to create new customs checkpoints, the BBC reported the same day.

At the same time, the Brexit fixation has created another difference between British society and the continental mainstream.

As Brits continued to ponder whether to stay in or out of the EU three years after a narrow referendum win for Brexit, most Europeans wanted their administrations to combat climate change (32 percent), poverty (31 percent), and terrorism and organised crime (24 percent), the EU survey said.

Protecting human rights worldwide, freedom of speech, and equality between men and women also came out top among the values that Europeans wanted their institutions to defend.

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