The grip of euroscepticism on the British imagination seems to be tightening, and much of the blame rests at the feet of the pro-EU lobby, which is not making itself heard as well as it should be.
A poll in mid-November 2012 revealed that 56% of Britons would probably or definitely vote to leave the EU if given the option in a referendum. And this anti-EU feeling can be found across the political spectrum: 68% of Conservative voters, 44% of Labour voters, and 39% of Liberal Democrats. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/nov/17/eu-referendum-poll
Soon after the poll was published, Labour leader Ed Miliband accused Prime Minister David Cameron of allowing Britain to “sleepwalk” to the exit door of the EU. It was time, said Miliband, for Europhiles to remake the case for the Union rather than turning a blind eye to its problems. “The answer”, he went on, “is not just to make the same old case for the EU more loudly. We need to argue the case in a new way, not simply assume it as an article of faith”. See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/cameron-accused-of-letting-britain-sleepwalk-out-of-europe-8327312.html.
The problem with euroscepticism is not that it exists – after all, we all have a right to our opinions in a democratic system – but that so much of it is simply so poorly informed, and based on myths and fallacies perpetuated by the eurosceptic media and politicians. It is one thing to accuse the EU of weaknesses from which it actually suffers, but quite another to accuse it of purely imaginary wrongs.
The core problem in Britain is that while polls show Britons to be among the most eurosceptic of Europeans, they also show Britons to be among the least informed on European issues. There is a critical link here between levels of knowledge about the EU and levels of hostility towards it. Turning the old adage on its head, it seems that when it comes to the EU, absence of familiarity breeds contempt.
British Europhiles do need to step up, as Ed Miliband suggests. They are not being heard as much as they should be, and they are not spelling out the benefits of the EU as clearly and fully as they should be. The result is that most of the running on the debate about the EU in Britain is currently being made by the Murdoch press and eurosceptic Tory backbenchers.
If Britons are to be offered a referendum on EU membership (although they already had one in 1975; how many do they need?) then we should hope that they have a good array of facts and opinions available, and don’t vote simply on the basis of the spin placed on the EU by eurosceptics. But this will not happen unless British Europhiles speak up.