UK opposes further European integration

15/06/16

A new report published ahead of the EU referendum has found that people from the UK are amongst the most likely to think that the unification of Europe has gone too far.

Even people from Norway and Switzerland - countries that already exist outside the European Union - are less likely than those in the UK to say that European Unification has gone too far.

The report outlines how many European countries – like the UK – are less than eager to see more integration, with only 9/21 scoring a mean of 5 or more on an 11-point scale.

The report, using data from the European Social Survey (ESS), outlines how the UK is clearly still one of the most sceptical countries when it comes to the EU, distrusting the European Parliament more than nearly every other European country that participated.

People interviewed in Israel - a non-EU country - were as dismissive of the European Parliament as those in the UK, Slovenia and Portugal who together lag behind higher levels of trust in 19 other European countries.

The report concludes that the UK is generally in line with other European countries when it comes to the public’s attitudes towards democracy, immigration and welfare, but with some notable exceptions.

The majority in the UK agree with most people in other European countries in thinking that social benefits and services should only be offered to immigrants once taxes are being paid or citizenship granted.

The report also found the UK and other countries are slightly more opposed to immigrants coming from poorer countries outside Europe than they are to those travelling from within.

The UK is one of the countries most opposed to immigration, with the most recent ESS survey highlighting that only Hungary has a larger proportion of people who would allow absolutely no immigration to their country.

Similarly to most European countries, the public’s perception is that immigrants receive more in social benefits than they contribute in taxes. Only Sweden feels that immigrants contribute more than they receive.

On other issues, the UK demonstrated more distinct views about immigration; on welfare for instance, only those in Germany are more likely than those in the UK to agree that access to social benefits and services ‘encourage people from other counties to come and live here’.

Whilst respondents in Germany have tended to see their welfare state as a draw, it is notable that they are now more positive towards immigration compared with the UK.

Compared to most other countries in the survey, respondents in the UK are some of the least likely to feel that immigrants enrich the cultural life in their country.

The survey has shown an increasing difference between the UK and Germany in recent years, as the UK becomes a little more hostile to immigration whilst Germany becomes less so.

Views on immigration are perhaps more similar between France and the UK on most - if not all - measures compared to those in Germany.

When it comes to the importance of politicians taking into account the views of other European countries, the UK was only ahead of Israel and the Russian Federation, with most other countries seeing this as more important.

On referendums, those in the UK are similar to those in other European countries in valuing the opportunity for citizens to have the final say on the most important political issues.

Dr Rory Fitzgerald, Director of the ESS, City University London, said: “Our report finds that those in France and the UK tend to share more similar views on immigration compared to views in Germany. This suggests that concerns about immigration will persist within the EU even if Britain does exit the Union.

“If Britain remains, then at least in terms of public opinion at least, it may find countries where its views are shared particularly on the issue of freedom of movement and when people are entitled to welfare benefits. On this issue there is overwhelming support for restrictions.

“It is clear that there is widespread support for using referendums to allow the people to have the final say on the most important political issues. The extent to which those in the UK support referendums in practice, as well as in principle, will of course be truly tested on 23 June.”