Posts Tagged ‘Security’

The British public and NATO: still a strong alliance?

As the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation celebrates its 70th year, Ben Clements analyses evidence on the views of the British public towards the alliance. He finds that, over time, Britons have generally been consistent in supporting NATO.

Public opinion towards NATO has been given added topicality in recent years for several reasons. First, worsening relations between NATO countries and Russia over Ukraine and more general tensions over aspects of international policy. Second, controversial pronouncements made by Donald Trump, including labelling NATO as ‘obsolete’ – a view which he subsequently renounced – and expressing firm views – also voiced by his predecessors using more diplomatic language – on the need for other members to increase their defence spending. Third, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has given rise to more scrutiny of his views on foreign and defence policy. But what does the British public think of NATO?

Aggregate public opinion

A long-running question gauged British public opinion towards NATO’s role as a security alliance in the Cold War period: ‘Some people say that NATO is still essential to our country’s security. Others say NATO is no longer essential to our country’s security. Which view is closer to your own?’ Figure 1 charts the responses for Britain between 1967-91. It shows that large majorities of the public consistently thought that NATO was essential for this purpose during the Cold War period: lowest at 59% in 1967 and highest at 81% in 1971. The proportion taking the opposite view was highest in 1982 (at 25%) but otherwise registered at lower levels, ranging between 8-16% over time. The remainder of the public, a fluctuating minority, were unsure.

Source: Compiled from Eichenberg (1989: 124) and Eurobarometer surveys.

The British Social Attitudes surveys provide some limited data on support for membership during the 1980s, based on a question asked between 1983-90: ‘Do you think Britain should continue to be a member of NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – or should it withdraw?’ During the last decade of the Cold War era, large and stable majorities of the British public favoured membership, ranging between 74-81%. Only very small proportions favoured withdrawal, between 10-15%. So, during the Cold War, large majorities of the public consistently affirmed their support for membership of NATO and its role in protecting national security.

Have public stances changed in the post 9/11 era? Cross-national survey series shed light on this question. First, a question on NATO has been asked in Pew Global Attitudes Project surveys between 2009 and 2017: ‘Please tell me if you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable opinion of … NATO.’ The proportions of the British public with favourable (combining ‘very’ and ‘somewhat’) or unfavourable (combining ‘very’ and ‘somewhat’) views are shown in Figure 2. Positive views of NATO have been broadly stable amongst the British public, in the range of 60-64%, with opposition around or below 20%. Favourable views of NATO have been around three times as common as unfavourable views.

Second, a question was asked on the Transatlantic Trends surveys between 2002-14, which sampled the UK public amongst other countries: ‘Some people say that NATO is still essential to our country’s security. Others say it is no longer essential. Which of these views is closer to your own?’ The proportions of the UK public saying NATO is essential or is not essential for national security are shown in Figure 3. Public opinion is broadly similar in profile to that seen in the Pew GAP surveys – over time, clear majorities have viewed NATO as essential for national security, albeit the size of the majority fluctuates.

Source: Compiled from the Transatlantic Trends website.

The levels of support seen more recently affirming NATO’s perceived essential role for national security are, therefore, broadly in line with those expressed by the British public in the Cold War period. The proportions disagreeing have ranged between 20-30% and those unsure have been lower still.

Views within societal groups

Evidence on group-related views towards NATO can be analysed using the Pew GAP 2017 survey. Within a range of societal groups (based on sex, age group, educational attainment, party support, and left-right ideological orientation), Figure 4 shows the proportions that were favourable and unfavourable towards NATO. In broad terms, majority support is evident across nearly all groups and easily outranks negative opinion. That said, there is some evidence of variation in positive opinion across social groups. Favourable views are more common amongst men than women (67% versus 57%). The younger age groups (18-29, 30-44) registered somewhat lower levels of favourable views, at 55% and 57%. Amongst the older age groups, around two-thirds have favourable views of NATO. Based on educational attainment, positive views of NATO were more prevalent amongst those with (at least a) degree, at 73%, compared to those with other qualifications and those with no qualifications (respectively, 59% and 60%),

Based on party support, 76% of Conservative backers have positive views of NATO, higher than the 60% of Labour supporters. The Pew GAP surveys between 2012-2017 show that Conservative views of NATO have tended to be somewhat more favourable than those of Labour supporters. In 2017, 63% of supporters of other parties held favourable views, which declines to 45% amongst those who would not vote or did not know (34% in this group were unsure of their view). Favourable views of NATO are highest amongst those in the ideological centre (at 67%) and on the right (68%), compared to 55% of those on the left. There is variation in negative views based on ideological location, with those on the left (32%) more critical than those in the centre (20%) or on the right (17%). Indeed, those on the ideological left express the highest level of opposition of any societal group. 


Across the decades, evidence drawn from a plurality of survey sources shows that, in the aggregate, the British public has been generally supportive of the country’s involvement in NATO and has valued its role as a security guarantor during the Cold War and afterwards. When contemporary public opinion is disaggregated, it is also clear that positive views of NATO significantly outweigh negative appraisals across social and political groups in wider society.


About the Author

Ben Clements is Associate Professor in the School of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester. The above draws upon research from his latest book, British Public Opinion on Foreign and Defence Policy: 1945-2017 (Routledge).



All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Boris Johnson holds late-night chat with Donald Trump

LONDON — Boris Johnson and Donald Trump snuck in a quick private meeting Tuesday evening with little fanfare ahead of a NATO leaders’ meeting in London Wednesday.

The U.K. prime minister and U.S. president discussed the importance of the military alliance and the need for unity to address evolving threats during a head-to-head in Downing Street.

Johnson wants to avoid appearing too close to his U.S. counterpart, who is deeply unpopular in Britain, for fear it could scupper his chances in the country’s general election next week. That could explain why the meeting was not announced in advance.

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump said he would not comment on the election, saying he did not want to “complicate” matters — before promptly endorsing Johnson as “competent.”

He also helped his ally out by saying he did not want the U.K. public health service to be part of a trade deal with the U.S. even if it were handed over “on a silver platter.” Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been claiming the opposite, saying Trump wants U.S. firms to win private contracts in the National Health Service and push up drug prices.

“The prime minister met President Trump this evening at Downing Street,” a No. 10 Downing Street spokesman said. “They looked forward to tomorrow’s NATO leaders’ meeting and reflected on the importance of the alliance to our shared security.”

The spokesman added: “The leaders welcomed the recent increases in defense spending by NATO member states and agreed on the need for the alliance to be unified in the face of new and evolving threats.”

At the meeting in Watford on Wednesday, Johnson is expected to heap gushing praise on the 70-year-old NATO structure.

“The fact that we live in peace today demonstrates the power of the simple proposition at the heart of this alliance: that for as long as we stand together, no one could hope to defeat us — and therefore no one will start a war,” he will say, according to excerpts from his speech released ahead of time.

But amid discussion of the need to reform the pact, he will add: “As allies and friends, we must never shy away from discussing new realities, particularly NATO’s response to emerging threats like hybrid warfare and disruptive technologies including space and cyber.”

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Trump timebomb lands in UK election campaign

LONDON — The Donald Trump timebomb has been dropped into Britain’s general election campaign.

Trump arrived in London on Monday night for a NATO leaders’ meeting the week before Britain votes to determine when, how and perhaps if it finally exits the European Union. While he will only be in the U.K. until Wednesday, both the governing Conservatives and opposition Labour Party are gearing up for a near-inevitable Trump intervention in British politics.

While Trump has struck up a rapport of sorts with Boris Johnson, the prime minister’s Conservatives want the U.S. leader to keep a low profile during his visit, fearing their fragile poll lead could go up in smoke.

A senior Conservative official said: “If [Trump] leaves without having caused anybody any damage, we’ll be pretty happy. But the potential for trouble is greater than the potential for any benefit.”

Data from pollster YouGov shows 67 percent of Brits have a negative opinion of the U.S. president, compared to 18 percent with a positive view.

Johnson needs Trump to tread a fine line of being open and encouraging about the prospects of a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.K., while not putting his foot in it in the process. But Trump is hardly known for his balancing acts.

Trump said that Johnson was “fantastic” and Labour leader Corbyn would be “so bad” for Britain.

“We know that the American president is fundamentally incapable of practicing diplomacy in the traditional sense, and has a tendency to make rather unhelpful remarks during press conferences, without care for the sensitivity of domestic political environments,” said Sophia Gaston, managing director of the British Foreign Policy Group, a think tank.

“The huge risk here for Johnson is that Trump emphasizes an ‘America First’ approach, underscoring the difficult reality of the forthcoming trade talks.”

Labour, on the other hand, is hoping Trump’s presence will exacerbate a row over including the National Health Service (NHS) in the future U.S.-U.K. trade talks — which could work to the opposition party’s advantage. Labour strategists calculate that even a hint that the U.K.’s much cherished public health system could be up for sale would work to their advantage.

“Trump will come over, act in the way he does, our media will go bonkers and [Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn will probably try to pick a fight,” predicted one Conservative politician fighting to hold onto a parliamentary seat in the English midlands. “There will be a lot of heat and not much light generated.”

Walking the line

Trump has already made clear his preferences in the British vote. In a recent phone interview, the U.S. president told his pal, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, that Johnson was “fantastic” and Corbyn would be “so bad” for Britain.

But the “worst case” fear, according to another Conservative who is fighting to hold their seat, is of Trump “just coming over and being smart and thinking he can help. What he thinks is helpful is not necessarily helpful.”

A senior U.S. administration official told reporters ahead of the trip that the president was “well aware” of the need to keep his nose out: “He is absolutely cognizant of not … wading into other countries’ elections.”

Trump has shown no such reticence in the past. During a visit in 2018, he used an interview with the Sun newspaper to lambast then-PM Theresa May for handing the EU “all the cards” in Brexit negotiations. During his state visit to Britain in June this year, Trump gave Labour a gift when he said the NHS would be “on the table” in any post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S., before later backtracking.

Former Conservative Cabinet Minister Andrew Mitchell, who is fighting to hold his seat in Sutton Coldfield, central England, said there were risks to the Trump visit for Johnson, but he expected the president to abide by the convention of not commenting on internal politics.

A mural in Stokes Croft in Bristol | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

“The problem, of course, is if he is teased or baited by the British media, he may be seduced into saying something newsworthy,” Mitchell said. “A stream of consciousness from the Donald in Twitter mode is unlikely to be helpful.”

Johnson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday that he would meet his U.S. counterpart during the NATO visit. But whether that meeting takes place with other NATO leaders or in the form of a one-on-one remains unclear. Commentators suspect Johnson would rather avoid the optics of a one-on-one meeting, and a press conference with Trump.

Asked by POLITICO at a campaign event in Westminster last week whether he was worried Trump could blow up his election strategy, Johnson said: “I am obviously going to be hosting NATO and look forward to meeting all the NATO heads of government coming to that meeting.”

Johnson even issued a warning to Trump, during a radio phone-in last week, to keep quiet while he visits the U.K. “We have very close relationships and friendships with the United States at every level of government,” he told broadcaster LBC. “What we don’t do traditionally as loving allies and friends is get involved in each other’s election campaigns.”

Health scare

Meanwhile, Labour is already laying the groundwork to kick up a fight with Trump over the possibility of the NHS being included in a trade deal.

Corbyn last week revealed leaked documents from the Department for International Trade showing U.S. negotiators raised drug pricing with their U.K. counterparts in preliminary talks about a deal. The Labour Party made hay with the revelations, claiming the NHS was clearly on the table in trade talks with the U.S., which Johnson has vehemently denied.

Labour’s Shadow International Trade Minister Bill Esterson told POLITICO: “President Trump and his officials have made clear that if Boris Johnson wants a deal with the U.S., it will be at the price of privatization and patient care.”

Gaston, from the British Foreign Policy Group, said Labour will use the issue this week to “maximize the visibility of the Trump-Johnson relationship.”

“We know that President Trump is deeply unpopular with the country as a whole, and that the messages Labour has been promoting around the potential costs of a U.S. trade deal are of genuine concern to voters,” she said.

In truth, the Trump visit could leave none of the parties in the general election campaign very happy.

Corbyn penned letters to both Johnson and Trump on Monday, demanding trade talks between the U.K. and U.S. are put on hold until a list of demands are met, including Trump removing reference to pharmaceuticals from his trading objectives and dropping the request for “full market access” to British public services.

“I am sure you understand that our coming general election on December 12 means the British public need urgent clarity that our NHS is genuinely off the table in U.K.-U.S. trade talks and will not be exposed to higher costs from U.S. drugs companies,” he wrote to Trump.

But Tories insist the claims over the NHS are not resonating on the doorstep.

One staff member who has been pounding the streets said Brits already recount negative stories about the NHS and do not believe it will get worse. The staffer drew a parallel with the Remain campaign in the 2016 EU referendum, which warned people who were already desperately poor that they would get poorer if Britain voted to quit the bloc.

“People are not buying this ‘NHS for sale’ claim,” another senior Tory official said, noting that the public does not believe drugs will get more expensive as part of a trade deal with the U.S. The official added that the Trump visit has not been raised in any election campaign briefings, so the party leadership cannot be too concerned.


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

But the president could add fuel to the NHS row if he goes off script.

“If he comes out with something that plays into Jeremy Corbyn’s hands about the NHS then it won’t be good,” the first senior Tory official said. “But if he comes out and says ‘I like Boris and we could definitely do a trade deal and the NHS is not a part of our agenda’ then it probably won’t hurt the prime minister.”

However, Trump’s visit and the NATO meeting might not be all plain sailing for Labour either.

“While the [Labour] manifesto commits to maintaining the fundamentals of our existing defense capabilities and spending, Jeremy Corbyn’s ambivalence towards NATO and other aspects of the rules-based world order are well-established,” Gaston said. “We can therefore expect that the Conservatives will want to highlight Corbyn’s ‘unsuitability’ for high office, portraying him as an unstatesmanlike candidate incapable of prioritizing national security.”

In short, the Trump visit could leave none of the parties in the general election campaign very happy.

Alan West, a former Royal Navy chief who sits in the House of Lords for Labour but is no fan of Corbyn, declared: “Having this NATO summit just in the middle of our election campaign could not have been a worse time, really … And having Donald Trump coming is a recipe for all sorts of trouble.”

Boris Johnson pledges to strengthen border security checks on EU nationals

LONDON — Boris Johnson is pushing for a post-Brexit reform of border rules designed to strengthen security checks over Europeans entering the U.K.

In the aftermath of Friday’s London Bridge terrorist attack, in which two people died and three others were injured, the Conservative Party put forward a package of five changes to border rules, including a requirement for Europeans to submit to electronic clearance procedures before entering the U.K. The party has pledged to implement the changes once it has ended freedom of movement after Brexit.

The alleged perpetrator of the London Bridge attack, 28-year old convicted criminal Usman Khan, who was shot by police at the scene, was born in Stoke-on-Trent in the U.K. in 1991 to Pakistani parents. He would not have been subject to the proposed new measures.

Under the Tory plans, if the party wins the December 12 election, EU nationals would have to obtain clearance to visit the country through a new Electronic Travel Authorisation, an online form designed “to screen arrivals and block threats from entering the U.K.,” similar to the U.S.’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) scheme.

As technology becomes available, Europeans applying through the proposed ETA program would also have to undertake biometric tests. The Tories said they “intend to discuss this further with the EU in the next phase of negotiations.”

“Tory claims to be strengthening the border through their sellout Brexit deal are groundless” — Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary

“Once we have left the EU we will be free of EU customs union and free movement rules. These rules have made it easier for illicit goods such as drugs, guns and explosive precursors, as well as illegal immigrants and terrorists to enter the UK, as well as costing the Treasury an estimated £5 billion each year due to excise, customs and tariff evasion,” the Tories said.

The proposal is not new: It was outlined in the government’s immigration white paper, published last December. The Conservatives reasoned that the EU plans to introduce a similar system in 2021 for third-country nationals who do not need a visa to travel to the EU, including Britons — the so-called European Travel Information and Authorisation System.

Commenting on the proposals, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that “drugs and guns” reach the U.K. streets from Europe and that “terrorists have been able to enter the country by exploiting free movement.”

Under the proposed reforms, EU nationals would also not be allowed to enter the U.K. with European ID cards anymore, and would need a passport instead. The Conservatives argue that ID cards, especially those from Italy and Greece, are “regularly used fraudulently given their insecurity vs. passports.”


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Requiring passports at the border would allow the British government to automatically count people going in and out, the Conservatives said. They also pledged to stop EU criminals at the border, and introduce the collection of pre-arrival goods data to stop smuggling, by mandating declarations for consignments from the EU.

However, the announcement seems to overlook the importance of maintaining U.K.-EU security links after Brexit. Under Johnson’s Brexit deal, the U.K. will exit the EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, after December 2020, and will need to negotiate access to its databases as part of a new U.K.-EU security partnership.

The U.K. is also expected to leave the European Arrest Warrant, which facilitates the extradition of individuals between EU member states to face prosecution for a crime or to serve a prison sentence for an existing conviction. High-profile terrorists such as the fugitive bomber Hussain Osman, who attempted to blow up a tube station in London in July 2005, were brought to the U.K. thanks to the EAW.

The Labour Party’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott slammed the Conservatives’ proposals.

“Tory claims to be strengthening the border through their sellout Brexit deal are groundless. By quitting the entire system of EU security and justice, we will no longer have real-time access to a host of critical databases or access to the European Arrest Warrant.

“This will undermine the ability of our police and border agencies to apprehend terrorists and organized criminals, and could even make us a safe haven for fugitives fleeing the justice systems in the EU,” Abbott said.

Maike Bohn, co-founder of The3Million group of EU nationals living in the U.K. said it is “callous” to link freedom of movement with the risk of terrorism.

“Since 2005 there have been 12 terror attacks in the U.K. Of the 19 known attackers 14 were British and none came to the U.K. under freedom of movement,” he said.

“On crime the government’s own expert migration report concluded that immigration had no impact on crime. This is populist playbook dog-whistling politics played out on the backs of millions of law-abiding EU citizens, fanning yet again the fear of the other, us immigrants in the U.K.”

This article has been updated.

All I want for Christmas is Brexit

“My early Christmas present to the nation will be to bring the Brexit bill back before the festive break, and get parliament working for the people,” Boris Johnson said ahead of the Conservative manifesto launch on Sunday. “As families sit down to carve up their turkeys this Christmas, I want them to enjoy their festive season free from the seemingly unending Brexit box-set drama.”

But far from being free from drama, Johnson’s pledge will mean Brexit upheaval that could last right up to Christmas Eve.

Johnson is pushing to hold the crucial second reading vote on the Brexit bill ahead of the Christmas break, assuming he wins a majority at the general election on December 12. That means fast-tracking the parliamentary procedures that happen after an election and risking arguments with MPs and Commons authorities.

The earliest date that MPs can be back in parliament is Tuesday, December 17, because of the rules around the election and to allow time for logistical tasks such as reactivating and issuing security passes. MPs would elect a speaker that same day — which should be a formality because they picked Lindsay Hoyle to take over from John Bercow before they broke up for the election.

Then every MP needs to be “sworn in” (to make an oath of allegiance to the crown while holding up a sacred text) before they can speak in debates and vote. That would take up the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday.


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Downing Street announced today that the queen will make her trip for the state opening of parliament on Thursday, December 19 — presumably with some degree of déjà vu after she went through the same ceremony in October when Johnson closed and re-opened the parliamentary session. The state opening will take a full day and no government business can be brought forward until after it is finished.

That means Friday, December 20 is the most likely day that Brexit legislation will be debated and voted on, and the government will try to fast-track the bill to get the second reading done. There is a possibility that instead of sitting on the Friday, the bill could be brought forward the following Monday (December 23) — but that is unlikely to go down well with MPs who want to start their Christmas break.

Whether or not the breakneck timetable will lead to the second promise made by Johnson, to get Brexit done by January 31, will be a question for after Christmas. With the remaining parliamentary stages of the bill and ratification in the European Parliament still to go, there will be numerous further hoops to jump through. Oh, and he still has to win a majority in the election first.

This insight is from POLITICO‘s Brexit Files newsletter, a daily afternoon digest of the best coverage and analysis of Britain’s decision to leave the EU, available to Brexit Pro subscribers. Sign up here.

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