Europe splits Welsh public according to BBC Cymru Wales poll

A narrow majority said they thought the country would be better off outside the EU

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Welsh voters are deeply divided on whether the UK should stay inside the European Union, according to a poll for BBC Cymru Wales.

A narrow majority said they thought the country would be better off outside the EU.

The result, which is within the margin of error, follows David Cameron's offer of an in/out referendum on Europe.

First Minister Carwyn Jones, who is visiting Brussels on Thursday, has said that EU membership benefits Wales.

Pollsters ICM found 49% of people thought that on balance the UK would be better off outside the EU.

By contrast, 45% said that on balance the UK benefitted from its membership of the EU.

Five per cent did not know, while the margin of error is +/-3.2%.

The prime minister has said he wants to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU and hold a referendum if he wins the next general election.

Poll: Question on EU membership

Total Male Female Age 18-34 35-54 55-64 65+

Source: ICM phone poll of 1,000 adults in Wales, 20-25 February, for BBC Cymru Wales. The margin of error is +/-3.2%

UK better off outside EU

49%

51%

48%

37%

53%

54%

58%

UK benefits from EU membership

45%

45%

45%

57%

41%

43%

39%

Don't know

5%

4%

7%

6%

6%

3%

6%

'Instability'

However, Mr Jones has said uncertainty about the UK's role in Europe will cause "instability" and scare off potential investors to Wales.

He has also criticised a cut in the EU budget until 2020, saying it was "deeply unfair" to the poorest parts of west Wales and the valleys which have received billions of pounds in financial aid from Brussels.

Analysis - Political Correspondent Tomos Livingstone

There has been an assumption, in political circles at least, that people in Wales are a little more pro-European perhaps than people in the rest of the UK.

But these survey results really suggest that Wales in reality is just as Euro-sceptic maybe as anywhere else.

The context for all of this is David Cameron's promise of a referendum on British membership of the EU after he's tried to reset that partnership, renegotiate British membership.

According to the UK-wide opinion polls it's touch and go as some polls show that there would be a majority in favour of leaving and others show the opposite.

And Wales have given different results in the past.

But what this latest poll I think underlines is that despite the billions of pounds of European money that have been spent in Wales over the last 15 years, it hasn't turned us really into much of a pro-European nation.

Elin Royles, from the Institute of Welsh Politics at Aberystwyth University, said there had previously been an assumption that public opinion in Scotland and Wales was more pro-European than for the UK as a whole.

"What we see here is that is not as true as we thought," she said.

"The Euro-scepticism that influences our communities is a lot wider, as is the influence of the UK press and wider attitudes.

"There's a lot of work to do to improve our understanding of what the EU means beyond that rhetoric."

Mr Jones, who will host a reception to highlight Welsh food in Brussels on Thursday, said: "The importance of our continued membership of the EU cannot be overstated.

"It gives us access to the biggest single market on earth and is central to what we can offer inward investors.

"Given the continued concerns about the global economy, anything that jeopardizes our membership or creates uncertainty is a mistake.

"I want Wales and the UK to have a strong, positive relationship with the EU that benefits us all."

Guto Bebb, the Conservative MP for Aberconwy, said the UK should stay in the EU, but the way the union works must adapt.

"Everybody knows that Europe isn't working at the moment," he said.

Mr Bebb said the fact that so many people in Wales thought the UK would be better off outside the EU "speaks volumes about the failure of the European system".

"So it's essential that we have fundamental changes in Europe and we can then offer them to British people as an idea for how Europe should work and how the relationship between Wales, Britain and Europe should work in the future."

David Hughes, head of the European Commission Office in Wales, said: "It is for the British government and people to set out what they feel is the best approach to the UK's place within the European Union.

"The commission welcomes the prime minister's recent clear statement that he wants Britain to remain in the European Union.

"Provided that Britain wants to remain in the European Union, it is very much in the European interest - and in the UK's own interest - for Britain to be an active member at the centre of the European Union."

ICM spoke to 1,000 Welsh adults on the phone between 20 and 25 February

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