19 October 2015

A new YouGov poll released today looks to assess the UK’s trading relationship. The poll is heavily focused on China and the current visit of the Chinese government to the UK, however, it also has some interesting results given the upcoming EU referendum.

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As the chart above shows, 40% of people still think Europe is the UK’s most important trading partner. However, unsurprisingly, many expect this to change over the coming two decades, although even then China only outstrips Europe by 29% to 22% (though a big swing).

This highlights some challenges facing both sides on the crucial issue of trade and links back to the ten questions we posed to both EU referendum campaigns last week.

For the Leave side it highlights that a significant number of voters still see Europe as our most important trading partner so they will have to explain how that relationship will be maintained if the UK were to leave (specifically what type of trading arrangement both for goods and services). Furthermore, as we pointed out in our piece last week, they will also have to detail how and why the EU is holding the UK back from tapping into new trade partners given that the EU and its Free Trade Agreements guarantee free trade for 60% of the UK’s trade, rising to 88% if pending FTAs are struck (there are of course no guarantees, as I discussed on the EU-US FTA here).

For the Remain side it highlights the shifting trade landscape over coming years. They need to make a convincing case that staying in the EU is not putting all our eggs in one (relatively shrinking) basket. A big challenge to overcome will be the question of whether this is the only say we will get on the EU for another 40 years. If that is seen to be the case then of course a number of other considerations come into play and the changes in economic power could be seen to have more weight.

In any case, trade will be an important battle ground in the EU referendum campaign and the YouGov poll is a first insight into the weight that voters give to Europe as a trading partner.