March 11, 2014 / 12:33 PM / 5 years ago

Britons backing EU membership overtake those keen to leave - poll

LONDON (Reuters) - More Britons would vote to stay in the European Union than leave it, a poll showed on Tuesday, the first time the “in” camp has been ahead since Prime Minister David Cameron pledged a referendum on Britain’s membership last year.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron listens to a question during a news conference at Number 10 Downing Street in London March 14, 2013. REUTERS/Nick Ansell/pool

Cameron has promised to offer Britons a vote on whether to leave the 28-nation EU if he wins a national election next year.

Under pressure from eurosceptics in his Conservative party and the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) ahead of European elections in May and the 2015 general election, Cameron has promised to first try to reshape Britain’s ties with the EU.

YouGov said its poll of 3,195 adults, carried out on March 9 and 10, found 41 percent would vote for Britain to remain a member of the EU, while 39 percent would choose to leave.

This was the first time the “in” vote had overtaken the “out” since Cameron made his referendum pledge in January 2013.

Anthony Wells, associate director in YouGov’s political team, said that while picking a reason for the change in this particular survey would be speculation, the gap had been gradually narrowing since Cameron promised the referendum.

In 2012, the number of people who said they would vote to leave was as much as 23 percentage points higher than the number who wanted to stay, YouGov figures show.

“When it became real ... suddenly people have had to start making a pro-European case that for many years just hadn’t been made,” he told Reuters.

“The underlying fact that it is much closer these days, and that the British public are much more balanced on whether they want to be in Europe or not than they were a couple of years ago, is undoubtedly the case.”

While Cameron has not spelled out in detail how he wants to reform Britain’s ties with the EU, he has made clear he wants to curb freedom of movement for people from poorer new member states, combat pan-EU “welfare shopping”, cut red tape and improve competitiveness.

When asked how they would vote if Cameron renegotiated Britain’s relationship with the EU and said the country’s interests were now protected, 52 percent of voters said they would opt to stay, with 27 percent still choosing to leave.

Editing by Catherine Evans

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