James Forsyth

Without significant change, Britain is heading towards the EU exit door

Without significant change, Britain is heading towards the EU exit door
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Anyone interested in the EU debate should read Dominic Cummings' report on the focus groups he recently conducted for Business for Britain. As well as being a reminder of just how strong the anti-politics mood in the country is, they also sketch out what the challenges for the respective campaigns in any referendum will be.

For Out, it'll be showing that exit won't cause economic disaster. The focus groups suggest that if people fear that leaving will cause jobs to be lost in large numbers, then they'll vote to stay despite their dislike of the EU. While In's biggest problem is that voters now spontaneously connect the EU with immigration. As Cummings writes, 'The biggest change in the EU debate since Brown announced in 2003 that we would not join the euro is that people now spontaneously connect the issue of immigration and the EU.'

Cummings, who as an old Business for Sterling hand has been working on the Europe debate for more than a decade, reports that 'By far the most important thing these people want back from the EU is power over the combination of immigration, border control, and human rights.' This makes me wonder if Britain leaving the jurisdiction of European Court of Human Rights, of which membership is currently required for EU states, might end up being part of the renegotiation.

But, perhaps, the most striking insight from these focus groups is that if the renegotiation doesn't deliver much it will dramatically increase the chance of Britain leaving the EU. Why, because 'A renegotiation would therefore first raise expectations and then increase disappointment. Trying and failing to reform the EU would make people more likely to vote to leave than they would in the absence of such an attempt because the process will dramatise the legal powers of the EU'.

What is becoming increasingly clear, and what needs to be grasped in Northern European capitals, is that without significant change, Britain is heading towards the EU exit door. The chances of Britain leaving the EU are now higher than they have been at any point since Britain's EEC membership was confirmed by the 1975 referendum.