About John McCormick

John McCormick

John McCormick is Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Politics at the Indianapolis campus of Indiana University in the United States.

About This Site

This is a site designed to encourage discussion about the benefits and advantages of the European Union, and to help students using my textbooks on the EU.


Who are the British eurosceptics?

We are hearing a lot about the hostility in Britain towards the EU, and the prospects of Britain sliding out of the door some time between now and the time that a referendum is held on British membership (an increasingly unlikely event, incidentally, given all the stars that need to come into alignment, not least an outright Tory victory at the next general election). But while all the talk seems to be about ‘Britain’ doing this and the ‘British’ feeling that, it is abundantly clear that the generalizations about ‘British’ positions on the EU take almost no account of (a) the diversity of British views on the EU, or (b) how little most Britons in fact know or care about the EU.

It is time, in other words, to look a little more closely at where the momentum is coming from, and to ask just who it is who is driving all this talk of a British exit. To generalize heroically, but to offer a short answer, it is primarily elderly Tories who are making the running. It is not younger Britons, because polls show that they generally favour Britain staying within the EU (see Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung), and it is not mainstream members of the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats, even if the casual observer might conclude – on the basis of their lukewarm defence of the EU – that the leadership of neither party is enthusiastically Europhile.

So let’s be clear about this: it is not “Britain” or “the UK” or the “British” who want/s to leave the EU, but a sub-section of a political party that was unable to win a majority at the last general election, and looks likely to repeat that performance at the next general election.

March 2016 update: Obviously the Conservatives won and the referendum is going ahead, and I – like many others – was wrong-footed by the polls. The last paragraph is also wrong: polls currently show that about 35% of people in the UK want to leave the EU, about 35% want to stay, and the balance could go either way. But I still hold by my other comments.

1 comment to Who are the British eurosceptics?

  • jmccormi

    I am British, and have studied and written about the EU for 25+ years. The fact that I live in another country is immaterial, and how do you know that I have no idea what the grassroots of the population thinks? You don’t know me, so you have nothing to base that on. I neither think nor claim that I can speak for everyone, and I know the Out campaign is more than a fringe; I have never suggested otherwise. The EU is not riddled with corruption. Most of those who make this argument quote news stories which actually say that corruption is a problem throughout the 28 countries of the EU. There are problems with the EU accounts, but there are also problems with national accounts; the EU is not unusual in this regard. Among the many myths perpetrated by the Out campaign is the old one about the EU accounts having not been signed off. It is simply not true, as you will see in the attached article. https://fullfact.org/economy/did-auditors-sign-eu-budget/

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