The British attitude to Europe, 1990

The Observer Magazine of 28 October 1990 polled more than 1,000 people about their attitudes to Europe with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in mind (‘Damned foreigners! What the Brits really think of Europe’), and Simon Hoggart was on hand to make sense of it all.

He noted we were at least adopting European cuisine at a steady rate: ‘We drink Munich beer in bierkellers. We eat French pancakes in creperies. Tapas bars can be found in depressed industrial towns as well as London’s West End… and the Eurofrite, so thin and yellow, has almost replaced the British chip, which is chunky and brown.’

People over the age of 45, looking at Germany, France and Italy, saw three losers in the war, said Hoggart, ‘but the new generation has a higher regard for Europeans than their parents do.’

For the faultline that led to Brexit was there even then. ‘The country was evenly split on whether a standard European passport should replace the British passport – 45% for, 48% against.’

When the respondents were asked, ‘Is Britain better or worse off in the EC?’ 39% said we were better off, and 37% said we were worse off.

If forced to live abroad, very few chose Europe. By far the most popular choice was Australia, with Canada second and the US third. Hoggart reckoned ‘the influence of a certain soap opera may be at work’.

The interviewees were asked if they knew foreign words for ‘newspaper’. ‘If a knowledge of languages is going to be essential for success after 1992, heaven help the realm.’ Only 16% got journal. Two people thought that the Spanish word was paella.

Alarmingly, 12% thought they would have to start driving on the right. ‘It would be helpful to know who they are,’ wrote Hoggart, ‘so we can steer clear of them – literally.’

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