A SHOCK poll has suggested that a majority of voters in the UK want Britain to leave the European Union.
The Survation poll of 1,004 people across the UK is the first indication that a majority - 51 per cent - would vote for a “Brexit” when David Cameron holds his referendum next year or in 2017.
The figures are a blow for the Prime Minister who this week faces a series of votes as he tries to steer the EU Referendum Bill through parliament, with Tory backbenchers already angry over his foot-dragging on agreeing to a purdah period for the UK government during the short campaign in the referendum.
And the issue has been made more difficult with the immigration crisis gripping the EU and threats by other heads of government that the UK needs to take a quota of refugees from Italy and Hungary if Mr Cameron wants agreement on a new deal for the UK’s membership of the EU.
According to Survation the margin in favour of leaving could grow if the migrant crisis gripping Europe continues, with 22 per cent of those who said they would vote to stay indicating they could change their minds if the situation worsened.
The overall findings run counter to a string of recent polls which have consistently shown comfortable majorities in favour of staying in. As recently as July, a Survation poll gave the “in” camp a 54 per to 46 per cent advantage.
Politicians will be wary of reading too much into one survey, particularly given the closeness of the margin.
Nevertheless it is likely to set alarm bells ringing in Downing Street ahead of Mr Cameron’s promised referendum, which must take place before the end of 2017.
It will also provide a huge fillip for the “out” campaign ahead of a possible Commons rebellion by Eurosceptic Tories when MPs return to Westminster following the summer break today.
One Tory rebel, Steve Baker, has placed an amendment which would also ban the European Commission and other EU bodies from directly campaigning in the referendum.
The government only escaped a vote to force a purdah period during the committee stage because Labour decided to abstain while Tory eurosceptic rebels joined the SNP to try to force the issue.
Last night former SNP leader Alex Salmond called on Labour to have a change of heart and ensure the UK government agrees to a purdah period.
He said: “When we return this week, I hope Labour will start to take their role in the parliament seriously and hold the Tories to account by backing the SNP amendments to ensure a fair, level playing field with the widest possible involvement from the electorate.”
There were also problems for the “in” camp with the Scottish sample - which is too low to be considered scientific but suggests a surprisingly close result north of the Border with 51 per cent in favour of staying in the EU compared to 49 per cent who want to leave. The result was seized on by the SNP as evidence that Scotland needs to be given a veto over the rest of the UK if an exit is to be agreed.
The SNP wants an exit only to happen if all four nations individually have a majority in favour of leaving the EU.
The SNP’s Europe spokesman in Westminster, Stephen Gethins, said: “Scotland should not be ripped out of the EU against its will which is why the SNP called for a double-majority safeguard to be added to the EU referendum - so the decision should be dependent on all four UK nations.”
He added: “Membership of the EU will continue to have a positive impact on jobs and Scotland’s economy.”