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Following the Conservative’s 2015 election win, the UK has been poised for a British ‘in-out’ EU referendum.
Initially it was suggested that the Referendum might be held as soon as May this year, coinciding with devolved elections in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. This was despite the Conservatives allowing themselves until the end of 2017 to hold the referendum, as the Government and many pro-Europeans believed the vote should be ‘sooner rather than later’. However, despite these rumours, a May vote has been ruled out (as of 8 February 2016). It now looks as though the big question will be asked in June or September.
Who wants out?
The UK’s main political party united against Britain’s membership of the EU is the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP). During the UK’s 2015 election, UKIP received 3,881,099, gaining its first seat in the House of Commons.
The Eurosceptic team is then comprised of two main organisations; Leave.EU and Vote Leave.
Vote Leave is a cross-party organisation, made up of MPs and peers from the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP. The group was launched on 9 October 2015.
Commenting on the launch of Vote Leave, Nigel Farage said he believed the two campaigns were aimed at “different audiences”. He said Vote Leave was making “Westminster-based” business arguments but believed that Leave.EU would be able to reach outside to wider audiences.
Conservatives for Britain, which backs Vote Leave, received a less generous welcome from Leave.EU when it was launched. The group said Conservatives for Britain was “run by the Westminster bubble” and branded its leader, ex-chancellor Lord Lawson, a “has-been”.
Who wants in?
In September 2015, Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that Labour will campaign for the UK to remain a member of the EU.
In a joint statement published by the leader and shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, the Labour politicians stated: “Labour will be campaigning in the referendum for the UK to stay in the European Union”. “We will make the case that membership of the European Union helps Britain to create jobs, secure growth, encourage investment and tackle the issues that cross borders – like climate change, terrorism, tax havens and the current refugee crisis.”
“We will, of course, oppose any attempt by the Tory government to undermine workers’ rights,” the statement says. “But Labour is clear that the answer to any damaging changes that David Cameron brings back from his renegotiation is not to leave the European Union but to pledge to reverse any changes by campaigning to stay in and get a Labour government elected in 2020.”
The Liberal Democrats are also campaigning to ensure that Britain remains in the EU, being one of the UK’s most pro-European party’s. Nick Clegg, the former party leader and Deputy Prime Minister has been especially vocal on the need for the UK to remain in the Union. In October, he wrote an opinion piece for the Independent where he ridiculed claims that the UK could enjoy EU benefits – such as unfettered access to the single market – while tearing up its membership of the world’s largest trading bloc.
The Conservatives are somewhat, undecided. The official party positon is one of pro-European standing, however the party is highly divided on the inside. Much more so than its opposition, Labour.
The arguments put forward from each side
Britain avoids exporter tariffs and red tape, Britain will negotiate a new EU relationship
important as 45% of British exports go to without being bound by EU law. It can
the EU. As a member, Britain can obtain secure trade deals with other important
better trade terms because of the EU’s size. Countries such as China, India and America.
Britain pays the EU £340 a year per household, Britain can stop sending £350, equivalent
compared with an estimated £3,000 yearly to half England’s schools budget, to Brussels
benefit of membership. In or out, payment is every week. This money could be spent on
needed to access the single market. Scientific research and new industries.
Most EU regulation collapses 28 national Leaving will return control over areas like
standards into one European standard, employment law and health and safety,
reducing red tape and benefiting business. Measures that a recent Brussels for Britain
In, Britain can fight for better regulation. poll found businesses favoured.
Leaving doesn’t mean reduced immigration. Britain can change the ‘expensive and out-of
countries that trade with the EU from control’ system that offers an open door to
outside have higher rates of immigration the EU and blocks non-EU immigrants who
including from EU countries, than Britain. Could contribute to the UK.
At international summits, Britain is Britain has little influence within the EU.
Represented twice – by the foreign secretary from outside, it can retake seats on
And the EU high representative. Co-operation international instructions and be a stronger
has helped fight Ebola and piracy in Africa. Influence for free trade and co-operation.
So in summary: who really thinks what?
A YouGov poll commissioned by The Times showed that overall 51% of almost 22,000 surveyed Britons want to remain within the EU and 49% want to leave. The Greens love the EU, whilst UKIP loathe it and Labour and Conservatives are pretty split. Scotland is the most pro-European country in the UK, with 60% wanting to stay within the EU. East Anglia has the highest votes for team ‘out’, with 53% wanting to leave.
University educated people are most likely to want to stay in the EU, with 62% of graduates wanting to remain in. YouGov says that its research shows that “one of the biggest challenges facing the pro-EU camp will be to enthuse the under 30s, who are mostly pro-membership but traditionally least likely to vote, while the ‘leave’ camp needs to maximise turnout among Brexit-inclined working-class voters”.
There is a huge gulf among young and older voters over the European issue – with almost two in three young voters backing the European Union. 63% of those aged between 18-29 year olds want to remain in the EU, while 56% of those aged over 60 want to leave. The middle-aged population are almost evenly on the issue.
Overall, six UK regions back continued EU membership and five wish to leave.
Who can vote?
British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK, along with UK nationals who have lived overseas for less than 15 years. Members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will also be eligible, unlike in a general election. Citizens from EU countries – apart from Ireland, Malta and Cyprus – will not get a vote.
What Cameron wants…
So what has Cameron achieved so far?
What is noteworthy is that this is not the end of the negotiations. Further negotiations are planned for 18-19 February and EU member states will also be able to discuss, add further amendments and comment on proposals.
Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
The CBI has consulted a number of its members on the referendum question. The majority of members believe that the benefits of being in the EU outweigh the costs, but they believe it must reform to work better for business.
The CBI is not affiliated with either the ‘in’ or ‘out’ campaign.
CBI membership: 140 trade associations in membership and businesses who join directly. Total is 190,000 businesses, employing nearly 7 million people.
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
In June/July 2015, the FSB conducted a survey of its members questioning whether they wanted to stay in the EU or leave. At the point of survey, 47.0% of FSB members would vote ‘Yes’, the UK should remain a member of the EU. 40.9% of FSB members voted ‘No’, the UK should not remain a member of the EU; and 10.7% would be ‘Undecided’. However, 40.8% feel ‘informed’ about the forthcoming referendum from a business point of view.
In April 2014, the SMMT and KPMG conducted an economic assessment of the UK’s automotive industry and the EU. The report looked at why, the report stated, it was essential for large and small automotive businesses to remain within the EU.
In addition to the economic report, SMMT members were surveyed for their opinion as to whether they believe the UK should remain within the EU. 92% said it was more beneficial to their business for the UK to stay in the EU, however the majority said this was dependent along with reform.
The SMMT is again looking into the referendum question following renegotiations.