How European are Britons really?

Oxford Circus. Picture by Alexandra Vryzakis

With the referendum fast approaching, Europe is hogging the headlines. Though 2017 may seem but a distant dream to some, its importance must not be underestimated.

Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, will on Wednesday give a speech about the potential financial implications of Britain leaving the EU. It is believed that this announcement may greatly influence public opinion ahead of next year’s referendum.

With this in mind, we headed out to Oxford Circus to get the public’s view.

Amongst those we interviewed, many seemed to have very little idea about the subject. Perhaps unsurprisingly, two students from South Bank University were good examples of this. Annabelle and Charlie, both 19, looked stricken at being asked about their views on Europe. Annabelle turned conspicuously to face Charlie, muttering “Are we European?”. This highlights the problem the ‘In’ campaigns are facing to convince voters to stay in Europe. Charlie was adamant that she had learnt nothing about Europe growing up, “we don’t discuss this issue at school”.

On the other end of the scale we have Peter Vennard, a retired primary-school teacher from London, who was quick to emphasise his French heritage. Surprisingly for someone with an Order of the Garter badge pinned to his Barbour jacket, Vennard said that he was “not anti-European by any means” and joked that he didn’t actually feel European because “they all drive on the wrong side of the road”.

Smoking a cigar in an almost gentlemanly manner, Vennard grew more serious as he spoke about the European civil servants who he sees as “falling into their positions” without so much as an election. He was also hesitant regarding the UK’s “continual integration with Europe”. As for Carney’s speech, Vennard is eagerly awaiting it as “he’s a Canadian”, allowing him to view the exit from “a more neutral perspective”.

“Indeed, the idea that the bureaucrats of Brussels might gain more power over the UK in the years to come seemed to be the biggest sticking point amongst our interviewees. A 30-year-old man, also a native Londoner, told us that he had reservations about the European Institutions dictating the UK’s future, reiterating as many did that he had “no idea how to vote”. He felt that it was up to the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaigns to be more vocal about their stances, or risk voters making a choice simply out of fear, or worse, confusion.

It is easy to see why there is such confusion about this multi-faceted subject, and many will be hoping that Carney’s speech at St. Peter’s College in Oxford will help clarify the situation further.”

Written with Alexandra Vryzakis