Does the British public now value the EU more than the US?

Chatham House’s latest report indicates that the British public believe that Britain’s relationship with the EU is now more valuable than its relationship with the United States, and that marginally more people would vote to remain in the EU than leave it in the event of a referendum on Britain’s membership.

Last week the international affairs think tank Chatham House released the fourth edition of its ‘Internationalism or Isolationism?’ opinion survey in collaboration with the pollster YouGov. The survey canvasses the views of 2,059 members of the British public for their views on other countries, international institutions, and British foreign policy priorities.

Within Europe, respondents were most favourable towards the Netherlands and Sweden, with 33 per cent and 28 per cent of those questioned respectively stating that they felt ‘especially favourable’ towards these countries. Ireland and Germany are held in high esteem by 24 per cent and 21 per cent of respondents. Only 2 per cent had an especially favourable view of Russia and Ukraine, with 56 per cent and 23 per cent respectively having an ‘especially unfavourable’ view of these countries. This marked rise in unfavourable opinion correlates with increased hostilities between the two countries in the past three years, with 67 per cent of respondents believing that Russia is a threat to Britain’s national security.

Outside of Europe, Australia topped the list of our favourite countries for the fourth time in a row with 47 per cent of respondents having especially favourable views, Canada were hot on their heels at 44 per cent, a rating they have held consistently across the four editions of the survey. 33 per cent held especially positive views of the United States, which is up from 20 per cent five years ago. North Korea is the country which respondents viewed most unfavourably at 47 per cent, replacing Iran, which has an unfavourable rating of 33 per cent. The survey also highlights a significant increase in unfavourable feeling towards Israel since 2012, with 35 per cent of respondents indicating they feel particularly unfavourable towards the country.

The armed forces are still seen as the institution serving Britain’s national interests best abroad, but the number has declined from 49 per cent in 2010 to 28 per cent in 2014. Protecting the UK at its borders is still regarded as the main focus of Britain’s foreign policy, although the 2014 figure is also lower than it was in 2010.

One of the most constantly, strongly, held views of respondents across the four surveys is that Britain ‘should seek to remain a great power’ in the world at 63 per cent. Only 20 per cent believed that it ‘should accept that it is no longer a great power’. At the same time however, 60 per cent believed that Britain ‘is expected to do too much internationally’ and that it should do less. Furthermore the majority of respondents (51 per cent) also believed that Britain should decrease the amount of money it spends on overseas aid compared to only 11 per cent who believed it should increase the amount. Charities and NGOs were also more trusted than the government to spend international aid money wisely.

Perhaps most interestingly, the EU has replaced the United States at the top of the list of nations and institutions that respondents believe Britain should have the closest ties with (30 per cent to 25 per cent). However, 47 per cent of respondents believed that the UK contributes too much to the EU. In terms of perceived negative aspects of the EU, the majority of respondents continued to believe that the EU passes too many laws and regulations affecting Britain, and that ‘too many people from the EU’ are coming to work in Britain. Despite this, nearly half of respondents valued greater ease of travel within Europe and believed that the EU makes it ‘easier for British people to live, work and retire elsewhere in Europe’. Since 2012, the number of respondents viewing the EU as a ‘waste of money’ has decreased while the number associating the EU with ‘a stronger say in the world’ and protecting human rights has increased slightly.

In terms of Britain’s future within the EU, 60 per cent of respondents believed that the government should commit to holding a referendum on Britain’s membership, and a slightly higher number 40 per cent would vote to remain a member, while 39 per cent would vote to leave.

The Chatham House report ‘Internationalism or Isolationism?’ can be read here.

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