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(Note: this article was written and published in 2016 and all views and opinions expressed herein were applicable and relevant to the time of publication) 

The Referendum

On Thursday 23rd June, the UK will hold a referendum to decide whether or not the UK should leave the European Union. This is the first opportunity since 1975 that the British people will have the chance to vote on our membership of the EU and has been called by the Prime Minister in response to calls from many Conservative MPs and UKIP to give British citizens the chance to vote. Eligible voters will have the chance to vote “yes” or “no” to the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

What is the European Union?

The EU is a political and economic partnership with 28 European member states. It started after WW2 based upon the idea that countries that are tied to each other economically would be less likely to go to war. Since it was first founded, the EU has evolved to become a “single market” – allowing people and goods to move freely between member states. The EU has its own Parliament which can create laws on anything from the environment to transport to consumer and worker rights. 19 of the member states share the currency the Euro but we do not – this is not part of the referendum as we are very clear about keeping the pound.

Negotiations with the EU

At the start of the year, David Cameron has worked had to reach an agreement with the other EU leaders to change the terms of Britain’s membership to address concerns about welfare available to EU immigrants – something that has been a concern to many of those campaigning for Brexit. Critics of the deal say the changes will make little difference and that the deal has achieved very little relative to what the Prime Minister asked for. If the UK votes to remain in the EU, the deal agreed will affect:

  • Child Benefit – migrant workers can still send child benefit payments back to their home country but the payments will reflect the cost of living in their home country
  • Migrant Welfare Payments – There will be a delay in the welfare payments that migrants can claim and the longer they stay, the more rights they will have to claim
  • Protection for the City of London – London’s financial service industry will be protected from Eurozone regulations
  • Currency – The UK will not be discriminated against for having a different currency and any money spent on bailing out Eurozone nations will be reimbursed
  • Union – There has been agreement that the UK will not be part of the move towards “ever closer union” and the Prime Minister has secured agreement for a “Red Card” system that means if 55% of National EU Parliaments object to EU legislation, it will be rethought.

How will people vote?

The British public are pretty evenly split in current opinion polls with the Leave campaign ahead in some polls. Around half of Conservative MPs, including 5 Cabinet Ministers, UKIP, serveral Labour MPs and the DUP are in favour of Brexit whilst the other half of the Conservative party and most of the Labour Party and the SNP want to remain. Those arguing for Brexit believe that the EU has become undemocratic, cots billions in membership fees, imposes too many rules on the UK and British businesses and prevents the UK from controlling its borders. This has been simplified to be an argument against immigration, however, many Brexiters believe that immigration is positive but that we should be able to decide which immigrants are able to come to the UK and that current immigration is putting too much pressure on resources. They also argue that it is a question of sovereignty and that the British Parliament should have the final say on laws. Those arguing for the UK to remain believe that the UK benefits greatly from access to the single market for trade, fuels economic growth, boosts the UK’s status in the world and is a force for good for consumer and human rights.

What happens if we leave?

No-one can say for sure what will happen if the UK votes to leave – the EU was never designed to be a club that members could leave.  Leaving would take a minimum of two years from the time that Parliament repealed the 1972 European Communities act, during which time the UK would abide by EU rules whilst it negotiated an exit. There are likely to be some damaging economic implications in the short run if the UK votes for Brexit – markets and speculators don’t like risk, but the most important thing is that for the first time in over 40 years, the British people will have their chance to have their say on our membership of the European Union.

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