When German Chancellor Angela Merkel travelled to Britain this week, she brought a plea for greater British engagement with Europe. Since Prime Minister David Cameron vetoed moves towards a new European treaty last December, the Eurozone has agreed greater steps toward political and economic union as it battles to save its currency, even as British parliamentarians have called for a reduction in the EU’s budget—illustrating the increasingly Euroskeptic tone of political discourse in the UK.
In such an environment, commentators have begun to speculate seriously for the first time about the potential for BRIXIT—a British exit from the EU altogether.
GlobeScan’s public opinion highlights an important consideration here: on several issues, the British public are closer to the wider world Anglo-Saxon community than to some of their next-door neighbours. To illustrate this, we compared UK data with two averages: one comprising America, Australia, and Canada, the other France, Germany, and Spain.
Fifty-five percent of Britons express trust in their national government, compared to just 30 per cent for the three major European countries. The three Anglo-Saxon countries, on the other hand, are very close to the UK figure (56%). The point here is that the more an electorate trusts its domestic governors, the less likely it is to support transfers of power to supranational authorities.
This divergence of views is repeated in attitudes towards business, where a higher proportion of Britons (57%) and Anglo-Saxons (54%) express trust in national businesses than Europeans (38%). A similar pattern is seen for global businesses.
As the Eurozone moves towards fiscal union, taxation and regulation of the single market are likely to become important issues, and largely pro-market views may put Britain on a collision course with her European partners. The irony is that although Britain’s December veto of EU moves to secure the Euro was meant to protect the interests of the City of London’s financial sector, a higher proportion of the British public (40%) than that of Spain (36%) claims to have “No respect at all” for the banking industry. In other words, the public wants more regulation, but its distrust of the EU means it prefers a home-grown regulatory framework rather than one coming from Brussels.
Many factors shape the UK’s attitude toward Europe, but there can be no doubt that in terms of outlook the British public often have more in common with their fellow English speakers than with their closest neighbours: this can present difficulties in forging common ground on policy areas—such as the economic crisis and banking—that are of an increasingly global nature.
The impact of British withdrawal from the EU, and its effect on business, are difficult to gauge. Nonetheless, even if the UK stops short of leaving the EU, the disengagement of the bloc’s third-largest economy will inevitably have ramifications for the business environment within the single market.
This post was written by former GlobeScan Research Director, Sam Mountford.