What do MPs think about the EU?

By Chris Mason
Political correspondent, BBC News

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Here are ten things about MPs' views about the UK's referendum on whether to stay in or leave the European Union, courtesy of research by the respected political academics Tim Bale, Philip Cowley and Anand Menon.

They interviewed 129 MPs, a sample they say is closely representative of Parliament as a whole. So what did those MPs, speaking anonymously, tell them?

1) Overwhelmingly, MPs think that the UK will vote to stay in the European Union - that was the response of seven out of 10 of those who spoke to the researchers.

But how will MPs themselves vote?

2) Half of respondents said they would be voting in favour of remaining in the EU. 11% said they would be voting to leave, but a third said that their views would depend on the terms of the prime minister's renegotiation with Brussels. Among Conservative MPs, 70% either said their vote would be based on the renegotiation, or they didn't know yet how they would vote.

So, whilst some say this whole renegotiation malarky is pointless because people will vote on the bigger principle of the UK's place in the world, this research suggests something else: those who are undecided now might be persuadable when a large chunk of MPs (including the prime minister) finally say how they're going to vote, and this could prove decisive.

3) Still not convinced? Take a look at the views of Conservative MPs and Tory party activists. When you compare this study with research into the views of the Tory rank and file, it appears Conservative MPs are slightly more Eurosceptic than their grassroots, but both party members and those at Westminster overwhelmingly say "lets wait and see what the prime minister gets".

So, on the face of it, the renegotiation does matter to them. Or, perhaps for some, they will want to be loyal to their party leader, and agree with whatever he concludes when the renegotiation is complete. David Cameron is highly likely to advocate staying in the EU - and will probably convince a healthy chunk of Conservative MPs and voters to support him.

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image captionDavid Cameron with European Council President Donald Tusk: Will the PM's negotiations affect the referendum result?

4) So, given I've claimed there is evidence to suggest this renegotiation does matter, do MPs think David Cameron will achieve very much? The short answer: no. Just 9% of MPs said they expected the negotiations to produce a great deal of change, and 21% expected a "fair amount" of change. The majority expected "not very much" or no change at all.

Therefore, the renegotiation could prove both crucial and, in concrete terms, insubstantial in the view of many.

5) How do MPs' views on the EU compare with those of the electorate? By comparing their research with the analysis of others, the academics conclude that Conservative MPs are, on balance, considerably more inclined than voters to believe the UK has not benefited from being a member of the EU. Labour MPs are even more out of line, but in the opposite direction.

Tell me more, do I hear you say?

6) OK, voters are sceptical about any supposed benefits to the UK of EU members throwing more of their lot in together and integrating, but are nowhere near as sceptical as some Conservative MPs.

So, when I say "European Union," what is the first thing that comes into your mind? And what is the first thing that comes into MPs' minds?

7) The most referred-to feelings Conservative MPs associate with the EU are "uneasy", "angry" and "hopeful." So not that sunny.

8) Labour MPs are positively beaming: "hopeful", "proud" and "happy" are the most popular sentiments from them.

9) And what about us lot, the electorate? "Uneasy", "hopeful" - oh, and "indifferent".

Perhaps evidence that the kind of stuff that can obsess Westminster might not mean much to plenty of others. But at least one begs to differ, because....

10) ...one MP said they wouldn't be voting in the EU referendum. I wonder who that was?

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