Thierry Chopin & Jean-François Jamet
British Euroscepticism is anchored in a long tradition. Opposition to British participation in the EU was already high in 1974 (39% among Britons compared to about 14% on average in the other Member States, only a year after its accession). Eurobarometer data shows that a majority of Britons have considered almost constantly for more than three decades that their country did not benefit from their participation in the EU. From an identity perspective, the British consider themselves very little European compared to the European average. The British Social Attitudes Survey in 2015 indicates that 47% of Britons consider the EU as a threat to the cultural identity of the UK (relative to 30% expressing the opposite).
Traditionally, the participation of the UK in the EU has relied on the desire to participate in the internal market, while the British rejected the idea of a closer union. The deepening of integration with, for example, the creation of economic and monetary union and cohesion policies, has turned away from the reality of EU economic community in which the British chose to enter (and remain there after the first referendum in 1975). The result is that since 1996, the British have been overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU on condition that their powers be reduced. The opt-out and budget reimbursements that the United Kingdom has benefited was an attempt to remedy this situation in part. Similarly, the resolution adopted by the European Council in February 2016 intended, in political and economic ambits, to reassure the British about the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, indicating that the UK was not included in a closer union and retained its autonomy with respect to certain institutional reforms adopted by the Euro area following the financial crisis. For example, the creation of the bank Union and the European stability Mechanism.
On the other hand, the referendum campaign has shown that the British population does not share some fundamentals of the British European policy. For example, the rejection of migration flows from other Member States of the EU and possible accession of Turkey, while British governments have historically supported the expansion and had not adopted a transition period in terms of circulation, after the accession of Bulgaria and Romania.
These general considerations should not mask the significant differences within the British population. Recent studies show that people with lower incomes and studios have a higher probability of being Eurosceptic. Euroscepticism also increases with age. In geographical terms, urban areas, Scotland and Northern Ireland are structurally less Eurosceptic than the English countryside.