X Close

Only 16% of Brits would fight to defend France

The King and Emmanuel Macron commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day today. Credit: Getty

June 6, 2024 - 11:50am

Only 16% of Britons would fight in a war to defend France, according to new UnHerd polling.

The survey, conducted by FocalData, polled 1,012 UK voters about foreign policy and defence, asking them which nations they would be willing to defend in an armed conflict. As Second World War veterans travel to Normandy to mark today’s 80th anniversary of D-Day, the UnHerd findings reveal that Anglo-French fraternity is in short supply.

Among respondents, 70% said they would not want to fight “to defend France from an invasion”, with 14% answering “don’t know” or “prefer not to say”. The 18-24 age bracket, for all the mirth surrounding Rishi Sunak’s proposal for national service late last month, was actually the most enthusiastic about defending the Fifth Republic, with 24% saying they’d fight for France. In contrast, the oldest age groups of 55-64 and 65+ were less keen, with 15% and 16% respectively stating that they would enlist (if allowed).

Would you want to fight in the British Army in each of the following circumstances?
Percentage of UK voters

These attitudes were reversed when respondents were asked about fighting for Britain. Within the 18-24 bracket, 29% said they’d defend the country from an invasion, compared to 38% among those aged over 65. The overall proportion of Britons who’d join up was 30%.

When the results were adjusted for sex, 22% of British men said they’d fight to defend France, with a corresponding figure for women of 9%. There were regional disparities, too: while 22% of voters in the East Midlands would come to Emmanuel Macron’s aid, only 10% of residents in the South West of England would do the same. Even in Scotland, whose Auld Alliance with France endured for centuries, just 15% would join up for the cause.

Notably, individual politics did not have a significant impact on responses. Among those who intend to vote Conservative in next month’s election, 18% would defend France from invasion, with 14% of Labour supporters agreeing. Even the Brexit divide means little here: 17% of Remain voters would fight on France’s behalf, compared to 16% of Leave voters. When the same respondents were asked whether they would take up arms to defend Britain, the difference between the groups was 11 percentage points, with 38% of Leave supporters and 27% of Remainers saying “yes”.

The finding reflects a broader attitude among the British population, of whom 44% think that the country should be less involved in foreign conflicts. Just 7% think Britain should be more involved in overseas wars.

As the election campaign progresses, UnHerd Britain will be investigating other questions of public opinion missing from the campaign. See full results of today's poll HERE.

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

35 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
19 days ago

Wrong point selected for the headline.

The really significant finding is that only 30% of respondents would fight to defend their own country against invasion.

Michael Meddings
Michael Meddings
18 days ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

It would be interesting to know the demographics of the 1012 respondents.

Martin M
Martin M
13 days ago

Exactly. Anyone over (say) 45 doesn’t really count, as they are unlikely to be called on to fight.

Kent Ausburn
Kent Ausburn
18 days ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

So what would they do if the UK were invaded, roll over and spread their legs? For a country like Britain, with a long warrior culture history, this polling is sad.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
18 days ago
Reply to  Kent Ausburn

Yes, and close their eyes and think of England. Good solid Victorian advice.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
18 days ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

It has to be admitted that a broad desire not to fight without a compelling argument to do so is not surprising.

The notorious Oxford University debate of 1933 that confirmed a determination not to fight for King and Country in any circumstances by 275 to 153 did not result in a widespread refusal to fight against Germany 6 years later. These sorts of polls are bound to be somewhat misleading to potential aggressors.

When push comes to shove, given a reasonably arguable cause and government and social pressure, most of those polled would in fact take up arms in the right circumstances.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
18 days ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Given the level of incompetence displayed by their government, why should they? Maybe after witnessing so much failure, they’d rather let the foreigners have a go at it than put their own necks on the line. That’s what the poll results say. If I were the leader of a country where only 30% of the people would fight to defend it, I would be taking that as an indication of my personal failure as a leader. Of course the politicians are fretting over a lack of patriotism from the people because leaders of defeated countries are also immediately unemployed and possibly worse. If truly indicative of public sentiment, basically anybody who wanted to could basically walk into the country and take whatever they wanted and the people couldn’t be bothered to worry about anyone but themselves. I’ve no doubt politicians and leaders are setting their researchers to work explaining this decline in overall patriotism. If they asked me, I’d save them a bit of time and effort by simply handing them a mirror.
I suspect even Putin and Xi would fare better in a similar poll, even if we had some magical way to tell who was responding honestly instead of out of fear. That should say something to leaders, but as with so many other things, they seem to be missing the forest for the trees.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
18 days ago

Given the total ingratitude of the French, it’s amazing that as many as 16% of British people would fight for France.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
18 days ago

Not all the French. Look to D-Day celebrations. It is usually the intellectuals and the garbage that infest their capital.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
18 days ago

A bit of an odd choice of headline… “only 16%” is more than the other foreign countries listed ‍♂ Surely the most shocking thing is only 30% say they would defend Britain!

El Uro
El Uro
18 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

What kind of response would you expect from someone who is 70+?

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
18 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

That’s been discussed in a separate article – this one is about the significance of D-Day.

John Riordan
John Riordan
18 days ago

This is what ought to put the EU Rejoin agenda into context. The EU’s planned Single European Army is something that wouldn’t be just like NATO’s Article 5 treaty commitment, but a unified structure that would possess direct command over the British armed forces. About as popular as joining the Euro, probably even less.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
18 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

We barely trust our own officers, how much do you think we trust the French?

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
18 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

That army is not about the soldiers. The generals, admirals and other toffs get cushy jobs in the Brussels. The fighting men are mercenaries from Romania or Bulgaria, or whatever country that has the cheapest labour costs. Those guys will be deployed to shoot at the citizens of the member states. A Romanian soldier most likely will be less restraint shouting Finnish citizens than a Finnish soldier. Serving in an army means civil rights, notably voting rights. There is no need for voting anymore, so the army can be made up from cheap labour. Really, is nobody reading Orwell’s 1984? It was meant as a warning, but it turned out to be a manual.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
14 days ago

Extremely well put.

Richard Maycock
Richard Maycock
18 days ago

30% wanting to fight for our country is a very good figure, really. My father certainly didn’t want to, but he did anyway, as would we today. Perhaps we should think about rebalancing our perspectives so that we temper the feeling the British actions and influences in the world have been largely negative.

Peter B
Peter B
18 days ago

A lot of us don’t share that feeling.
British actions and influences in the world have been largely positive.
Show me a country that’s done more.
But that’s right – we need to feel guilty about doing a good job – and “grateful” to the French for them letting us down in WWII.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
18 days ago

I think downvoters may be misunderstanding you. It seems to me you’re advocating precisely what Peter B (in reply) means.

Peter B
Peter B
18 days ago

Who writes this stuff ?
“As Second World War veterans travel to Normandy to mark today’s 80th anniversary of D-Day, the UnHerd findings reveal that British gratitude is in short supply.”
We’re supposed to be the grateful ones ? For what, exactly ? Being let down in 1940 ? Bankrupting ourselves bailing them out ?

Chris Whybrow
Chris Whybrow
18 days ago

It depends on who they were up against, but I’m inclined to say no. They haven’t historically been our greatest friend.

Martin M
Martin M
13 days ago
Reply to  Chris Whybrow

They weren’t even that friendly during WW2, when they were technically allies.

Basil Schmitt
Basil Schmitt
18 days ago

Sacrificing an entire generation in WWI to defend France and Belgium is the biggest mistake Britain ever made.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
18 days ago
Reply to  Basil Schmitt

Edited.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
14 days ago
Reply to  Basil Schmitt

In 1914, Germany was Prussia. The Rhinelanders were envious of British commerce so supported expansion of German Navy. The Navy was counter balance to the army. A German dominated Europe would have turned on Britain.The German economic plane was to exclude Britain from Europe and reduce the conquered countries to vassal states to supply cheap labour and material for Germany and as market for German goods. There was to be a customs union to benefit Germany.

Martin M
Martin M
13 days ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The German economic plane was to exclude Britain from Europe and reduce the conquered countries to vassal states to supply cheap labour and material for Germany and as market for German goods. There was to be a customs union to benefit Germany.
Sounds a bit like the EU.

j watson
j watson
18 days ago

Remember conscription was necessary in both WW1 & 2.
We need a strong, well trained professional military that can be deployed wherever required. It shouldn’t be as small as it is now, and a failure of 14 years Tory Govt, but we do not need mass mobilisation so these questions are drivel.
Having spent many years in the Forces and 6 as a Trainer what usually happens is those trained want to deploy to an active combat area, desperately. Whether they want repeat deployments to a war-zone another matter but everyone wants at least one such deployment on their record. There was/is no reluctance, despite what Mums might be saying.. And what also typically happens is the loyalty becomes as much to each other when they serve. The ‘espirit de corp’ kicks in. Pride in Flag and what we might be fighting for helps, but good training and team spirit more important. Young people answering these sort of questions are pre-training. Many would feel v different after that if trained well.

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
18 days ago

It’s all theoretical anyways, France is not about to be invaded by anyone, and if Russia tries to attack NATO they know they would be annihilated by vastly superior forces and technology. If it goes nuclear, nothing matters anyways. The world was a very different place 80 years ago. The main reason Britain defended France in 1939 was to defend themselves because they knew they were next.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
18 days ago
Reply to  Dave Canuck

Agreed. It’s a meaningless poll. Comparing attitudes to the defence of France in WW2 and France today is not comparing apples with apples……more like apples with blackcurrants.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
18 days ago

How many people would fight to defend Britain from an invasion?
Surely this depends upon what size boats the invaders arrive in.

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
18 days ago

Current Western apathy for war has many cultural, historical, economic, and political antecedents. However, one cause seldom discussed is that Westerners have come to trust the deterrence which derives from advanced technological weapons such as the antimissile systems now heavily deployed in Israel and Ukraine. These two examples demonstrate the amazing performance of these systems but should also enlighten us to their limitations and our vulnerabilities against sufficiently determined adversaries. One limitation seldom discussed is the discrepancy between how these systems were intended to fit into a comprehensive defense scheme and how they are currently being deployed. Their expense precludes perpetual deployment in a purely defensive capacity against much cheaper and abundant weapons as we are seeing in Ukraine. These systems were intended to protect against initial salvos from an adversary who would then be crippled by a massive and coordinated offensive response neutralizing their ability to launch additional attacks. That is not happening in Ukraine in that Russia’s ability to manufacture or obtain an unlimited supply of offensive missiles and drones has not been meaningfully challenged. The proper application of these missile defense systems–from a military perspective–should have been accompanied by a massive physical assault on Russias industrial infrastructure and the destruction of all transport vessels bringing weapons into Russian ports and airfields. Absent that response it becomes attritional with the advantage going to the aggressor via the much cheaper and more quickly assembled offensive missiles and drones.

This vulnerability may soon also manifest in Israel as Hezbollah, which already has a massive missile arsenal and replenishment resources, grows daily more belligerent. If the West persists in restraining Israel’s response against its enemies, their impressive missiles defense system will eventually be exhausted. No matter how magnificently they perform in the short and medium terms, they cannot suffice if used against a persistent adversary with the capacity to indefinitely resupply with offensive weapons.

There is a type of moral nobility in a society that eschews war; however, we do well to be instructed by history and current events. We should not misuse what advantages we have by squandering our military resources in ambivalent “limited” responses that achieve no end despite massive expense. We should observe how little has been achieved using the model of half response employed in Ukraine and advocated by the West in Israel.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
18 days ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

Excellent observation! But what if these wars are not meant to be concluded, but just need to go on to keep a MIC in business and fat cats fat? ‘The war in Ukraine is a cheap way to avoid that the Putin regime is a threat to NATO’. ‘The best investment of dollars ever’ ‘Good value for money’ If you happen to be a vassal state in the lining of firing that is just your destiny. Vassal states provide the cannon fodder. There is no real conflict with Russia unless outright war is started with MAD as a consequence. The war over Israel is continued because of American imperialism. Even the mullahs in Theran have admitted they can make peace with Israel once the Americans are out of the Middle East. It is not religious, it is secular. Global South senses the decay and imperial overstretch and seizes the opportunity. The last thing the Western elites want is a full blown war. Better to pull the udders as long as there is some milk to squeeze out of them. By the way, the Patriot systems, Abrahams and Leopard tanks fail miserably. UK is supposed an invicible tank which we have not heard of since one was destroyed. The frigat Hesse fired two!! missiles after a drone and missed. Fortunately, they missed because it was an American drone. German navy cannot even recognise their ally’s objects. After that they discovered that the factory that had manufactured their missiles has been closed, so they cannot restock. This is Germany. Putin must be wetting his pants. Houthis use 4.000 dollar drones and the Americans have to fire 1 million dollar missiles at these drone. Hence the Australians withdrew their participation. A drone cannot destroy your frigat, but it can do a lot of damage to your one billion dollar costing floating hubris. Print more money, is that the solution? Will be interesting to see how these wars go on during the next scamdemic. Be interesting to hear what your thoughts are about that.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
18 days ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

Excellent observation! But what if these wars are not meant to be concluded, but just need to go on to keep a MIC in business and fat cats fat? ‘The war in Ukraine is a cheap way to avoid that the Putin regime is a threat to NATO’. ‘The best investment of dollars ever’ ‘Good value for money’ If you happen to be a vassal state in the line of fire that is just your destiny. Vassal states provide the cannon fodder. I call that white privilege. That way it was certainly picked up in India, Russia and Asia. Reminds us of the Yellow Peril scare and Stepan Bandera propaganda. That tranny was quickly withdrawn after it was quoting vintage Bandera. There is no real conflict with Russia unless an outright war is started with MAD as a consequence. The war over Israel is continued because of American imperialism. Even the mullahs in Theran have admitted they can make peace with Israel once the Americans are out of the Middle East. It is not religious, it is secular. Global South senses the decay and imperial overstretch and seizes the opportunity. The last thing the Western elites want is a full blown war. Better to pull the udders as long as there is some milk to squeeze out of them.
By the way, the Patriot systems, Abrahams and Leopard tanks fail miserably. UK is supposed an invicible tank which we have not heard of since one was destroyed. The frigate Hesse fired two!! missiles after a drone and missed. Fortunately, they missed because it was an American drone. German navy cannot even recognise their ally’s objects. After that they discovered that the factory that had manufactured their missiles had been closed, so they cannot restock. This is Germany. Putin must be wetting his pants. Houthis use 4.000 dollar drones and the Americans have to fire 1 million dollar missiles at these drone. Hence the Australians withdrew their participation. A drone cannot destroy your frigate, but it can do a lot of damage to your one billion dollar costing floating hubris. Print more money, is that the solution? Will be interesting to see how these wars go on during the next scamdemic. Are non-Western soldiers even then disposable for the better world envisioned by Klaus and Tedros? Think not. Incontinence underwear will become scarce because heads of state will not be able to keep it dry as the West destroys itself. How dare they?

R Wright
R Wright
18 days ago

Who gives a toss about France? They have already suffered invasion. The real issue is nobody wanting to fight for the defence of their own homeland.

Martin M
Martin M
13 days ago

I’d be interested to know how many French people would be willing to fight to defend Britain (although I admit that geography means that a scenario where Britain was threatened before France is unlikely).