Attitudes to the EU in Wales

Prof Roger Scully shares the latest attitudes to the EU in Wales.

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As with the rest of the UK, Wales is not greatly enamoured with the EU; indeed, over recent times it has generally become less so. The figure below shows changes in attitudes between 1990-20111, in surveys run by Eurobarometer: it charts the percentage of people within the UK who regarded the UK’s membership of the EU as a ‘good thing’, a ‘bad thing’, or who were neutral or unsure. Amidst fluctuations from survey to survey, the general trend has been for the proportion saying ‘good thing’ to decline (except, perhaps, during the latter part of the 1997-2010 Labour government), while the numbers taking a negative view have tended to rise.

There are not huge differences between the nations of Britain in terms of their attitudes to the EU. But there is a consistent pattern of modest differences, which shows that England is the most Euro-sceptic and Scotland the least Euro-sceptic, with Wales somewhere in the middle (though usually closer to England in attitudes). The chart below illustrates this with answers to the ‘Good Thing’/‘Bad Thing’ question from three parallel surveys conducted in the three nations in April 2014:

We see the identical pattern of national differences in results from another question asked in April 2014: how would people vote in a referendum on Britain’s EU membership? By 40% to 37% (with the remainder unsure or indicating that they would not vote in such a referendum), respondents in England said that they would vote to leave the EU; those in Scotland favoured remaining in by the fairly comfortable margin of 48% to 32%; while Wales was more narrowly in favour of continued membership, by 39% to 35%.

More recent evidence (from the January Welsh Political Barometer poll), suggests three things about attitudes to the EU within Wales:

  • First, a clear majority of people (59% of respondents) favour the idea of having a referendum on EU membership (with only 22% opposed, and the remainder unsure). We should note, though, that many people habitually respond positively to the idea of having a referendum on anything when asked in surveys; it doesn’t mean they will necessarily take any interest in such a vote if it actually happens!


  • Second, attitudes in Wales seem to have become a little more pro-EU over the last year in Wales. Asking the same questions as in the April 2014 survey (the ‘Good Thing’/‘Bad Thing’ question on EU membership, and how people would vote in an EU referendum), the recent January 2015  Barometer poll found a more pro-European balance of responses. So 41% now said that EU membership was a Good Thing (up 6% on April 2014), while only 30% described as a Bad Thing (down 2% on April 2014); similarly, in January 2015, 44% said that they would vote to remain in the EU in a referendum, while 36% said that they would vote to leave: this eight point margin was double that found only nine months previously.


  • Finally, however, there was not much perception that Wales particularly benefits from EU membership, compared to the rest of the UK. The Barometer poll asked people whether they thought ‘More than the rest of the UK’ from Britain’s EU membership, Less, or whether it benefitted to about the same degree. The most popular single response (chosen by 37% of respondents) was ‘about the same’, while another 17% said that they didn’t know. But of those with a definite view one way or the other, nearly twice as many (30%) thought that Wales benefitted less than the rest of the UK that those (17%) who thought it benefitted more. Given the amount of EU funding that Wales has received in recent times, this is a striking finding.


Note: Data for the first figure here are taken from the results published by Eurobarometer, a series of regular surveys of public attitudes in EU member-states supported by the European Union. All other data are taken from surveys carried out by YouGov.

Roger Scully is a Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

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