A third of MPs said their vote on whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union is dependent on David Cameron’s renegotiations, new research carried out by Ipsos Mori on behalf of The UK in a Changing Europe has found.
Twenty per cent of Conservative MPs said they were going to vote to leave regardless of the outcome of the renegotiation, almost double those who would stay, which represents 66 Conservative MPs (+/- 33) voting to leave, with another 200 (+/- 43) still weighing up the options.
The findings show half of MPs would vote to remain in the EU and 11 per cent would vote to leave. Three per cent of MPs did not know how they would vote and one respondent said that they would not be voting at all.
UK in a Changing Europe director Professor Anand Menon said: “This research underlines that the PM has it all to play for when it comes to ensuring his own MPs vote with him in the upcoming referendum.”
Feelings about the EU
The MPs’ were also surveyed on their feelings about the EU. When asked what the EU means to them personally, Conservative and Labour MPs were poles apart. For Conservatives, the EU means ‘bureaucracy’ (77%), ‘not enough control at external borders’ (64%), and ‘waste of money’ (46%). For Labour MPs it means ‘freedom to travel, study and work anywhere in Europe’ (82%), ‘economic prosperity’ (74%), ‘a stronger say in the world’ (70%) and ‘peace’ (65%). The findings show they could easily be talking about two different organisations altogether.
The top two emotions Conservative MPs experience when thinking about the EU are uneasy (69%) and angry (25%). Labour feelings were hopeful (64%), followed by proud (42%) happy (37%) and confident (37%). Voters are also uneasy about the EU, although not quite as much as Tory MPs but most voters are indifferent and the EU does not stir up as many emotions in them. The EU does not interest them as much as it does Conservatives at Westminster.
Conservative MPs are, on balance, considerably more inclined than voters to believe the UK has not benefited from EU membership. Labour MPs are if anything even more out of line but in the other direction.
Sixty-four per cent of Conservative MPs said they think the EU has integrated too far. Compared with the public’s view, Conservative, indeed all, MPs are more sceptical.
Professor Menon said: “This survey shows, on balance, MPs views are out of sync with the general public’s views on the EU. For most people the EU stirs little to no emotion and it isn’t an issue they are generally concerned about. Politicians clearly have a lot of work to do to convince people of the importance of getting engaged with the upcoming referendum and convincing them to come out to vote.”
The survey also highlighted MPs’ ignorance about the EU. When asked which country held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (when questioned in December) 61 per cent of respondents admitted they did not know (it was Luxembourg at the time). Asked what do the 12 gold stars on the EU flag represent, just seven per cent got the correct answer, which is that ‘the number twelve is traditionally the symbol of perfection, completeness and unity’.
Professor Menon said: “Our elected representatives displayed a surprising degree of ignorance coupled with, paradoxically, remarkably strong opinions about the EU. This highlights the importance of our initiative which exists to provide people with impartial information ahead of the UK’s EU referendum.”
A representative sample of 129 MPs were interviewed in the poll which took place between 6 November and 18 December 2015. The research findings – MPs and the European Union – were analysed by Professor Menon, together with Professor Philip Cowley and Professor Tim Bale.
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.