Better Off Out? Britain and Europe


  • This article is a slightly revised version of the 2012 Norton Lecture, which was delivered at the University of Hull on 10 February 2012.


The largest ever rebellion of Conservative MPs on Europe took place in October 2011 with 81 Conservative MPs defying the Conservative whip to vote for a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the European Union. This resurgence of dissent over Europe has been fuelled by the crisis in the eurozone. The Conservative party is now an overwhelmingly Eurosceptic party, but Conservative Eurosceptics are divided over whether the Government should use the opportunity of the eurozone crisis to take Britain out of the European Union, or whether it should seek to negotiate a looser arrangement, or do nothing at all. Conservative policy on Europe has been further complicated by the coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and by the consequences for the British economy if the eurozone disintegrates. Public opinion is also divided. British policy on the European Union remains ambivalent and muddled because British aims are inconsistent, and because there is no consensus on where Britain's interests truly lie.