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EU citizens in no mood to reward Brexit

by Denis MacShane | 17.05.2017

An opinion poll of 9,000 citizens in nine EU countries should make sobering reading for Britain’s Brexit ideologues: it shows a large majority wanting to ensure the future of the European Union, and little enthusiasm to help Britain build a good economic relationship with its former partners.

The survey showed 78% of Europeans want the primary objective for the Brexit negotiations to be on “protecting a good future” for the remaining EU27. In contrast, only 22% want the focus to be on building a new economic relationship with UK, with “privileged conditions” post-Brexit.

The poll was carried out for the European People’s Party, the centre-right federation of parties which is the dominant political group in the European Parliament and amongst the EU27 governments. It was carried out between April 26 and May 5.

There were vivid differences between countries. France had the greatest number of citizens – 31% – in favour of helping the UK after Brexit. In contrast 89% of the Spanish said the future of the EU 27 was the priority and only 11% thought that helping the UK was important. Spain runs a very healthy trade surplus with the UK and benefits enormously from the 18 million British tourists who visit each year.  It may have been the crass remarks by former Tory leader Michael Howard threatening Falklands-style military action against Spain over the future of Gibraltar that has made the Spaniards so careless about future relations with Britain.

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But how to explain the German response? Theresa May might hope for a special relationship with Angela Merkel based on their common background as daughters of Protestant clergymen. But a full 80% of Germans want the Brexit negotiations to focus on strengthening the EU, and only 20% think there should be a special deal for the UK.

German public opinion is important because there is a general election in September. There are likely to be protracted negotiations to form a coalition government – the norm in Germany. So Berlin will only have a foreign minister in charge of Brexit policy in late November or December. It is unlikely that any serious decisions on aspects of the Article 50 negotiations will be taken before then. Unless there is a remarkable change in public opinion, German exasperation with the failure of May to face down the more extreme demands of the Brexit ideologues will only grow.

The poll says the top priority for 92% was to protect the future economies of the remaining EU member states. 91% want to enhance the financial markets in the remaining EU27 states – a view that challenges City complacency on Brexit.  88% want to ensure that the UK pays any outstanding financial obligations to the EU and 86% support protecting the right of EU citizens in the UK.

Some 39% said that ensuring the wellbeing of the UK economy was “not very” or “not at all” important, with only 16% attaching “extreme importance” to helping the UK economy after Brexit.

The assumption from the pro-Brexit camp that the EU-27 have more to lose from Brexit than the UK is not how a large majority across the Channel sees Brexit. The English nationalist establishment is entering the talks in a dangerous state of complacency.

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Edited by Quentin Peel

3 Responses to “EU citizens in no mood to reward Brexit”

  • Given that nothing in this article is stated for the first time, that no one on the Continent in my experience sees any reason at all to “help” the U.K. As they’re making their own bed and will have to lay in it, and given the rather inexplicable hostility shown to the EU, the outcome of this opinion poll is no surprise whatever. It is also not to be expected that it will change anything in the posturing the British government has adopted.

  • As an Eu-citizen, I can concur. “You want to be left alone, fine, be alone!”
    But I am sure saying this, will make me the boogie man of every Right Wing tabloid.

  • As a regular reader of Danish newspapers I can only say that Brexit isn’t high on the agenda – actually not on the agenda at all. And when it does pop up it is more about what the European Union will look like afterwards and not about what will happen to the UK. It’s not spite but self preservation.
    Residing in the UK I see an awful amout of infantile navel gazing. It might be difficult to believe, but the universe does not rotate around the British Isles and what the countries and citizens in the EU decide to mean about their stand on Brexit is not fuelled by hate, spite or vengeance but what will give the best overall result for themselves.