Poll shows Brits would back a European free trade area over remaining in the EU

In an echo of the UK’s last referendum on Europe in 1975, 58 per cent polled for think tank the Bruges Group said they would prefer the UK to be part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

That compares to 42 per cent who prefer to stay in the EU. The feeling was shared in Scotland, despite the SNP’s pro-EU policy.

According to the Opinium poll, 52 per cent preferred EFTA over EU membership. It comes as 250 business leaders said they supported Britain quitting the EU.

The Bruges Group said yesterday that there was an alternative to the EU and that the crucial poll proves Britons have not changed their view on European integration since the UK voted more than 40 years ago.

The European Free Trade Association promotes free trade to the benefit of its four non-EU member states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Joining it, said Bruges Group director Robert Oulds, means the UK would keep full access to the EU single market while being allowed to pursue its own worldwide trade deals.

Under EFTA, Brussels would no longer have a say in the UK’s agriculture, fisheries, home affairs or justice policies.

Mr Oulds said: “There is a fully worked out exit plan that clearly sets out what Britain will be like once we vote to leave the EU. We have shown there is a viable alternative to the EU and what is more this will win us the referendum.”

Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said the British public had been “fooled” in 1975.

He said: “What British people don’t want, in my view, is political union. That is not a necessary price to pay for free trade.”

According to a separate survey of small and medium-sized firms, 32 per cent said the EU hinders businesses like theirs, while 25 per cent said it helped them and 40 per cent said it made no difference.

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