Ahead of the European referendum Key 103 spoke to Christina Chiva a lecturer in EU politics at Salford University to explain just what June's vote actually means.
What is the EU referendum?
The referendum, due to be held on 23 June 2016, provides an opportunity for UK citizens to decide on the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union. Voters can vote on whether to ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ as a member of the EU.
Why is the referendum happening now, and has it ever happened before?
This referendum fulfils Prime Minister David Cameron’s January 2013 pledge to have an in/out referendum on EU membership. Having been a member of the EU since 1973, this is the first referendum on the UK’s EU membership since 1975.
Who is eligible to vote?
- British, Irish and/or Commonwealth citizens over the age of 18.
- British citizens who have lived outside the UK for less than 15 years.
- Members of the House of Lords.
- Commonwealth citizens of Gibraltar.
*Citizens from EU countries that are not members of the Commonwealth will not be eligible to vote.
What are the main benefits of EU membership?
- It is very cheap for businesses in the UK to export to other EU member states, and for the UK to import goods from the continent, as the EU is a single market.
- Britain’s EU membership has helped open global markets to UK firms on strong terms and has increased flows of investment into the UK, with up to an overall net benefit of between 62 and 78 billion pounds for the British economy (or 4-5% of GDP).
- The British public can work or live in another member state without any restrictions.
- The UK’s status as one of the largest member states of the EU has been exceptionally advantageous for the UK’s ability to protect its interests in the EU.
What are the main benefits of leaving the EU?
- Britain would be able to exercise greater sovereignty – that is, to adopt legislation and other measures without the need to compromise with other EU member states.
- Advocates of Brexit argue that, were it to leave the EU, Britain would ‘get back’ a significant amount of money from Brussels.
What are the main disadvantages of leaving the EU?
- Britain may still need to pay into the EU budget, as non-member states like Norway and Switzerland already do.
- It’s unlikely that the EU would grant Britain access to the single market without asking it to adopt EU legislation in return.
- Following a vote to leave, Britain will have two years to complete negotiations for a new relationship with the EU, with little certainty of what the outcome might be.
- Big business may relocate elsewhere within Europe to gain access to the single market - a significant part of the non-EU companies are currently based in the UK because of this existing access.
- Brexit would bring into question the continued existence of the United Kingdom as a unitary state - Scotland in particular is much more likely to vote ‘remain’ and this could lead to another ‘in/out’ referendum like 2014.
What is this ‘deal’ that David Cameron has been working on with the EU? And is it any good?
David Cameron has obtained several important concessions from his European counterparts. For example:
- Britain is now exempt from the commitment to an ‘ever closer union’ which has underpinned the EU’s functioning since its establishment.
- An agreement has been obtained of which non-Eurozone countries will have their concerns heard, should their interests be affected by decisions taken by the Eurozone member states.
- An agreement has been obtained of which a majority of EU parliaments will be able to ask for legislation to be reconsidered by the EU, thereby strengthening the role of elected legislatures in the EU.
- He succeeded in introducing curbs on the EU migrants’ access to benefits in the UK.
Britain already has a vast number of exemptions from EU rules, much more than any other member state, i.e. Britain are exempt from having to adopt the euro. Britain also has a substantial rebate or discount in terms of its contribution to the EU budget.
What is the general view stance on the referendum from the main political parties (i.e. the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP, Green Party, SNP etc)
- The Liberal Democrats (LibDems) and the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) are unambiguously in favour of EU membership.
- The UK Independence Party (UKIP) strongly opposes EU membership.
- Labour is relatively strongly committed to EU membership, although the party does not always speak with one voice on this issue.
- The Conservative Party is considerably more divided, with key figures such as Prime Minister Cameron strongly in favour of continued EU membership, and London Mayor Boris Johnson strongly against EU membership.
Why does this referendum matter?
The referendum represents the first opportunity that voters have had in four decades to decide on the UK’s relationship with the European Union. This is all the more important for the younger generations of voters who came of age after the 1975 referendum, because they have not yet had a say on this matter.