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Campaigning on Europe – members’ views

January 14, 2022 12:14 PM
By Duncan Brack
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

You may remember, last November, taking part in a survey on members' views on Brexit and the party's campaigning on the future of UK-EU relations. Thanks to everyone who participated - 6,500 members, more than any previous survey of this type - and thanks to Greg Foster and Dan Schmeising at party HQ who organised it on behalf of the Federal Policy Committee. This article gives you the results.

The first question asked how you voted in the 2016 referendum. Completely unsurprisingly, over 91 per cent voted to Remain. Most of the rest couldn't vote (for example because they were too young); just 2.5 per cent voted to Leave. No less than 95 per cent would describe themselves now as Remainers (more than four-fifths of whom chose the option 'Yes, I am a Remainer and I am proud of it') and just 1.3 per cent described themselves as Leavers (a third of whom - 25 people - were proud of it).

In response to the question, 'Do you think people in your life who aren't Liberal Democrats associate the current problems the country is experiencing - shortages of truck drivers, farmworkers, care workers and goods in shops - with Brexit?', on a 0-6 scale, the average answer was 3.7: in other words, they do, but not all that strongly. Of course, the pandemic and the government's feeble response have complicated the picture substantially, but this will change over time, as the impacts of Brexit become ever clearer. Indeed, if we'd asked the question now rather than two months ago, I suspect the response would have been stronger.

We next asked which EU-related policy areas the party ought to treat as a priority, given that the impact of Brexit is being felt across so many; people could choose three out of a list of fourteen. Trade came top, listed by more than half of respondents. The others, in order, were: climate change and energy; freedom of movement and immigration; rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU; standards for environment and labour issues; scientific collaboration; cultural, artistic and educational links; environment and biodiversity; defence and security; health policy; justice and police cooperation; foreign policy (countries outside the EU); international development; and crime.

The remaining questions dealt with how people thought the party should communicate its existing policy (as decided by party conference - to build closer links between the UK and EU, leading in the longer term to joining). We asked (on a 0-6 scale) whether people thought that (a) people who aren't Liberal Democrats and (b) party members and supporters, would like to hear us talk more about building a better relationship between the UK and EU, short of joining the EU; and whether they'd like to hear us talk more about the UK rejoining the EU. For each audience, respondents thought that 'building a better relationship between the UK and EU, short of joining' would be a better message than 'the UK rejoining the EU' (by 4.2 to 3.1 for non-Lib Dems and 4.9 to 4.5 for party members and supporters). All those are on the positive side of the results (3.0 is the mid-point), though only just so for a rejoin message for non-members.

We asked similar questions about the party's target audience at elections: 'The Liberal Democrats should pitch our appeal mainly to former remain voters by emphasising our belief that the UK should join the EU' (score 3.6) and 'The Liberal Democrats should pitch our appeal mainly to former leave voters by stressing the need to build a better relationship between the UK and EU, and avoiding talking about joining one day' (score 3.9) - both positive, but neither exactly ringing endorsements. The combined position - 'The Liberal Democrats should pitch our appeal to both former remain and former leave voters - even though this may be a less clear message - by stressing the need to build a better relationship between the UK and EU in the first instance, leaving open the possibility of rejoining' - proved more popular, with an average score of 4.5.

The final question asked people to choose between those three positions. The combined message was a very clear winner, chosen by 65 per cent of respondents. The 'appeal to remainers' message won the support of 19 per cent and the 'appeal to leavers' message 16 per cent. Although we tried to force the issue by stressing the likelihood of the combined message being a less clear one, you were having none of it!

Thanks again to everyone who took part. The FPC's task is to take that core message and put policy flesh on it. Look out for our policy paper on the future of the trading relationship between the EU and the UK, and Single Market membership, due for debate at spring conference.