4-in-10 Lib Dem voters inclined to leave EU, says poll – a reminder why our pitch should be ‘In Europe to reform the EU’

by Stephen Tall on November 18, 2012

‘If a referendum were held on the UK’s membership of the European Union, how do you think you would vote?’ That’s the question posed by polling company Opinium and published today in The Observer — with the following result reported by the paper:

Almost four out of 10 Liberal Democrat voters support leaving the EU, according to a new poll which shows that hardline euroscepticism has taken hold in Britain’s most pro-European party. An Opinium/Observer survey has found that 39% of Lib Dem supporters would be inclined to vote in favour of leaving Europe if an in/out referendum were called.

So while a plurality of current Lib Dem voters are opposed to a ‘Brexit’, a substantial minority would be in favour of the party leaving the EU. The result isn’t all that surprising given the current pitch of anti-EU fervour generated by the Eurozone crisis and EU leaders’ sclerotic response.

It’s also not that surprising when you consider Lib Dem members’ views, either. We’ve polled twice on the issue at LibDemVoice and on each occasion found a greater range of views than might have been expected from a party traditionally pigeon-holed as Europhiles — most recently, in February, we found the following:

LDV asked: Which of the following options would be your ideal future for the UK and the European Union?

    46% – The UK should remain a full member of the EU and work towards ever closer union, economically and politically.

    40% – The UK should remain a full member of the EU but reject working towards ever closer union, economically and politically.

    10% – The UK should secure substantial renegotiation of its existing relationship with the EU but remain a full member.

    3% – The UK should leave the EU altogether and instead negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU.

    2% – Don’t know / No opinion

A full 96% of members supported remaining within the EU — however, 40% rejected the idea of moving any further towards the path of ‘ever greater union’, while a further 10% wanted to see a substantial renegotiation of the existing UK relationship with the EU.

I’ve argued before the Lib Dems need to make a more assertive pitch on Europe: ‘In Europe to reform the EU’. Too often the Lib Dems are seen as too starry-eyed on this issue. Sometimes that’s because we are. This is understandable: the xenophobic tone of much anti-EU commentary tends to encourage Lib Dems to over-compensate in our praise of the EU. So here’s a reminder of the policy and tone I think Nick Clegg should be emphasising as the party’s constructively critical position on Europe:

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.