Brexit voters stick to party lines regardless of where they live
David Cameron keen to wrap pre-referendum agreement with Europe before Christmas
British prime minister David Cameron: European Council president Donald Tusk said this week Cameron was pressing other EU leaders to agree a pre-referendum deal before Christmas. Photograph: Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images
During a phone call with Angela Merkel on Thursday, David Cameron told the German chancellor that he no longer expects a deal over his pre-referendum reform demands at this month’s European Union summit.
Downing Street said the two leaders agreed that “good progress” was being made in the negotiations but some difficult issues would take more time and it was more important to get things right than to get the deal done quickly.
The Conservative government has long viewed a deal this month as unlikely, on account of the legal and political issues surrounding some of Cameron’s demands. European Council president Donald Tusk said this week the British prime minister was pressing other EU leaders to agree a deal before Christmas.
Even if December is now out of the question, it is clear that Cameron is keen to wrap up the negotiations quickly and get on with the referendum.
And, despite Downing Street’s description on Thursday of reform proposals as “significant and far-reaching”, it is unclear how crucial the deal will be in determining whether Britain chooses to remain in the EU or to leave.
The most difficult of Cameron’s demands, for other EU leaders, surround the relationship between the euro zone and EU member states that do not use the euro, and curbs on welfare benefits for migrants from within the EU.
But the former cabinet minister believes that British voters will make their decision based on a frank assessment of where their interests lie.
“My guess is that people will vote in the end to stay in. It won’t be a poetic vote. It will be a very pragmatic vote to stay in,” he said.
Psephologist John Curtice agrees that risk will be a major factor in determining the referendum outcome, and that those wishing to remain in the EU have the advantage there. A new report by his NatCen social research agency suggests, however, that the political parties could play a crucial role in influencing the vote.
The report highlights sharp differences between the four parts of the UK in how people say they will vote in the referendum. In England opinion is almost evenly divided between those who wish to leave the EU (48 per cent) and those who wish to remain (52 per cent). In the rest of the UK there are clear majorities in favour of remaining. In Wales 55 per cent wish to do so, in Scotland, 64 per cent, and in Northern Ireland as many as 75 per cent.
“This majority support for remaining, in the rest of the UK, could be enough to overturn a small majority to leave in England. Should the vote in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland be in line with current polls, a small majority in England voting to leave the EU of between 50-52.4 per cent would still result in an overall majority in favour of remaining in the European Union,” the report says.
There is no discernible gender gap in voting intention, but age is important, with the young most enthusiastic about remaining in the EU and older voters more likely to want to leave. Social class and education are important too, with better educated voters more pro-EU.
If these were the only factors, England, which has more educated, professional voters than other parts of the UK, should be more enthusiastic about remaining in the EU. What makes the difference is party politics, with voting intentions among Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Ukip voters much the same regardless of where they live.
Nearly all Ukip voters wish to leave the EU, Conservative voters everywhere are evenly divided on the issue, while a majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat voters wish to remain. But the relative weakness of the Conservatives outside England, and of Ukip in Scotland, means there are fewer Eurosceptics in those parts of the UK.
The big majority in Northern Ireland for staying in reflects the fact that, although a majority of those supporting unionist parties want to leave the EU, those backing Sinn Féin and the SDLP are almost unanimously in favour of remaining.