Four years after Brexit, support for the EU increases in Britain

According to the European Social Survey (ESS), a pan-European survey conducted every two years, 56.8% of respondents in the United Kingdom indicated that they would vote to stay within the bloc, an increase of 49.9% the last time the poll. published in 2018. The most recent poll shows that of those surveyed in the UK, 34.9% said they would vote to leave and 8.3% said they would not vote at all.

The findings come in the same week that marked the fourth anniversary of the 2016 referendum. Over the years, the UK engaged in a divisive internal debate on exactly what form Brexit should take, complicated negotiations with Brussels on how the country would abandon the bloc and a painful political stalemate that only ended on January 31 of this year, when the United Kingdom finally left the EU.

The survey also reveals that support for the EU has grown widely across the continent.

The latest survey of 26 countries, four of which are not member states, reveals an increase in support for EU membership, suggesting that speculation that other countries would quickly follow the United Kingdom out of the union is possibly unfounded.

Of the 19 countries that participated in both the most recent and the previous ESS, all EU member states saw increased support for EU membership. There was little change in Norway and Switzerland, which are not member states. The latest data was collected while the UK was still negotiating its exit from the EU as a member state.

“Brexit had an early increase in support among member states, but for most EU citizens, Brexit has not been on their radar for a long time,” says Georgina Wright, an EU expert at the Government Institute .

“In recent years there has been a feeling that Europe is not static. In the last EU elections we saw many parties that endorsed EU reform elected to parliament, which I think suggests that citizens are increasingly more positive about the EU’s ability to change over time. “

Outside the block there is a mixed image. In the Balkans there are majorities in Montenegro and Serbia to join. However, support remains strong for staying outside of non-member states that have a much closer relationship with the EU than the UK government claims it wants.

Switzerland, for example, is part of the EU Schengen Area and operates in line with large areas of EU law to participate in the EU Single Market. Only 11.2% of respondents in the country would be in favor of joining. Norway, where 21.5% of respondents were in favor of joining the EU, is a full member of the European Economic Area and of the European Free Trade Association.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, by contrast, has stated on numerous occasions that the UK will not comply with EU law and is only seeking a free trade agreement with the bloc. Any agreement should be in force before 31 December this year, when the UK’s current transition period with the EU expires.

While the survey shows a significant change in British support for EU membership compared to 2016, it shows only part of a dark picture in the context of British politics. Johnson won an 80-seat majority in a landslide election victory in December on the simple “Get Brexit Done” platform, suggesting that leaving the EU was popular after more than three years of indecision.

“Many people, regardless of their preference to leave or stay, believe that the referendum was a democratic vote, regardless of what they think of the result. Therefore, in the Prime Minister’s words, they could agree that we need to get Brexit done. “says Will Jennings, professor of politics at the University of Southampton.

“Hypothetically asking people how they would vote if the referendum were happening now could get an interesting answer. But it is a fundamentally different question.”

Whatever is happening in the UK, the apparent trend of increased support for the union among its own ranks will be good news for Eurocrats. Brussels has been careful to avoid Brexit setting an increasing trend for Euroscepticism and has innumerable internal problems due to disagreements between member states on issues like China and migration.

“Our latest data suggests that the UK remains divided over Brexit, yet in the rest of the union, support for staying in the EU remains very high and is actually increasing,” says Professor Rory Fitzgerald, Director from the European Social Survey on the City, University of London. “Support for the rest ranged from 66% (Czech Republic) to 89% (Spain), suggesting that anti-EU sentiment seen in the UK is not spreading to other countries.”

However, he also points out that if the UK succeeds in reaching an agreement with the EU before the end of the year, then the question of Britain in Europe could be resolved once and for all.

“Only in countries outside the bloc like Norway and Switzerland do we see higher levels of anti-EU sentiment than in the UK. However, this suggests in the long run, being outside the union could see support for rejoining.”

If that happens it will largely boil down to what kind of deal, if any, Johnson manages to get to Brussels. “The smoothest deal this government wants to make is much more difficult than many people in this country are comfortable with,” says Simon Usherwood, professor of politics at the University of Surrey. “When people begin to see the impact it has on the country and the economy, we may soon know that the European question is far from being resolved as new battle lines are drawn.”

Brexit negotiations between the EU and the UK have continued until 2020 via video conference, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Both sides previously told CNN that a lack of human interaction has made the negotiations more difficult. And while both want to reach an agreement, there is still a significant distance between the two parties and very little time remains, unless London or Brussels make a major concession.