The UK’s EU referendum: All we need to know
Posted by SERRAI INVEST CAPITAL LTD (Media Team)
What is happening ?
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union to be held on Thursday 23 June. This article is designed to be an easy-to-understand guide – and a chance to ask other questions, a selection of which we’ll be answering at the bottom of the page.
What is a referendum?
A referendum is basically a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part, normally giving a “Yes” or “No” answer to a question. Whichever side gets more than half of all votes cast is considered to have won.
What is the European Union?
The European Union – often known as the EU – is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries (click here if you want to see the full list). It began after World War Two to foster economic co-operation, with the idea that countries which trade together are more likely to avoid going to war with each other. It has since grown to become a “single market” allowing goods and people to move around, basically as if the member states were one country. It has its own currency, the euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries, its own parliament and it now sets rules in a wide range of areas – including on the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things like mobile phone charges.
What will the referendum question be?
The question is always crucial in any referendum. The Electoral Commission proposed the wording, which has been accepted by MPs: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” The options for voters will be ‘Remain a member of the European Union’ and ‘Leave the European Union’. Read more: Does the wording of a referendum question matter?
What does Brexit mean?
It is a word that has become used as a shorthand way of saying the UK leaving the EU – merging the words Britain and exit to get Brexit, in a same way as a Greek exit from the EU was dubbed Grexit in the past.
Who will be able to vote?
British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK, along with UK nationals living abroad who have been on the electoral register in the UK in the past 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.
How will you vote?
It will be a similar system to that during other elections. Firstly, if you have registered to vote, you’ll be sent a card telling you when voting takes place and where you should go to vote on 23 June. On that day, when you go to the polling station you will be given a piece of paper with the referendum question on it. You then go to a booth, which will have a pencil in it for your use. You then put a X in the box which reflects your choice and put the paper into a ballot box. Alternatively you will also be able to opt to vote by post.
What are the main changes David Cameron has agreed?
Mr Cameron agreed a package of changes to the UK’s membership of the EU after two days of intensive talks with other member states’ leaders in Brussels in February. The agreement, which will take effect immediately if the UK votes to remain in the EU, includes changes to:
- Child benefit– Child benefit payments to migrant workers for children living overseas to be recalculated to reflect the cost of living in their home countries
- Migrant welfare payments– The UK can decide to limit in-work benefits for EU migrants during their first four years in the UK. This so-called “emergency brake” can be applied in the event of “exceptional” levels of migration, but must be released within seven years – without exception.
- Eurozone– Britain can keep the pound while being in Europe, and its business trade with the bloc, without fear of discrimination. Any British money spent on bailing out eurozone nations will be reimbursed.
- Protection for the City of London– Safeguards for Britain’s large financial services industry to prevent eurozone regulations being imposed on it
- Sovereignty– There is an explicit commitment that the UK will not be part of an “ever closer union” with other EU member states. This will be incorporated in an EU treaty change.
- ‘Red card’ for national parliaments– It will be easier for governments to band together to block unwanted legislation. If 55% of national EU parliaments object to a piece of EU legislation it will be rethought.
- Competitiveness– The settlement calls on all EU institutions and member states to “make all efforts to fully implement and strengthen the internal market” and to take “concrete steps towards better regulation”, including by cutting red tape.
- Some limits on free movement– Denying automatic free movement rights to nationals of a country outside the EU who marry an EU national, as part of measures to tackle “sham” marriages. There are also new powers to exclude people believed to be a security risk – even if they have no previous convictions.
How does that differ from what he wanted?
Mr Cameron had originally wanted a complete ban on migrants sending child benefit abroad but had to compromise after some eastern European states rejected that and also insisted that existing claimants should continue to receive the full payment.
On how long the UK would be able to have a four-year curb on in-work benefits for new arrivals, Mr Cameron had to give way on hopes of it being in place for 13 years, settling for seven instead.
On financial regulation, a clause was inserted “to ensure the level-playing field within the internal market”. This was in response to French fears that Britain was seeking special protection for the City of London that would have given it a competitive advantage.
Critics argue that the final deal falls well short of what Mr Cameron originally promised when he announced his plan for a referendum, particularly when it comes to returning powers from Brussels. It is not clear, for example, if the “red card” for national parliaments would ever be triggered in practice.
But most of the points in the draft agreement, with the exception of those mentioned above, have survived unchanged into the final deal. Read more: What Cameron wanted v what he got
Why is a referendum being held?
Britain had a referendum in 1975 shortly after it had joined the EU, or the Common Market as it was then called. The country voted to stay in then but there have been growing calls, from the public and politicians, for another vote because, they argue, the EU has changed a lot over the past 40 years, with many more countries joining and the organisation extending its control over more aspects of daily lives. David Cameron initially resisted these calls but in 2013 he changed his mind.
Who wants the UK to leave the EU?
The British public are fairly evenly split, according to the latest opinion polls. The UK Independence Party, which won the last European elections, and received nearly four million votes – 13% of those cast – in May’s general election, campaigns for Britain’s exit from the EU. About half of Conservative MPs, including five cabinet ministers, several Labour MPs and the DUP are also in favour of leaving.
Why do they want the UK to leave?
They believe Britain is being held back by the EU, which they say imposes too many rules on business and charges billions of pounds a year in membership fees for little in return. They also want Britain to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming here to work. One of the main principles of EU membership is “free movement”, which means you don’t need to get a visa to go and live in another EU country. They also object to the idea of “ever closer union” and any ultimate goal to create a “United States of Europe”.
Who wants the UK to stay in the EU?
David Cameron wants Britain to stay in the EU, now he has got some powers back from it. Sixteen on his cabinet also back staying in. The Conservative Party has pledged to be neutral in the campaign – but the Labour Party, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems are all in favor of staying in. As mentioned above, according to polls, the public seems pretty evenly split on the issue.
Why do they want the UK to stay?
They believe Britain gets a big boost from EU membership – it makes selling things to other EU countries easier and, they argue, the flow of immigrants, most of whom are young and keen to work, fuels economic growth and helps pay for public services. They also believe Britain’s status in the world would be damaged by leaving and that we are more secure as part of the bloc.
So would Britain be better in or out?
It depends which way you look at it – or what you believe is important. Leaving the EU would be a big step – arguably far more important than who wins the next general election – but would it set the nation free or condemn it to economic ruin?Here is a rundown of the arguments for and against.
What about businesses?
Big business – with a few exceptions – tends to be in favor of Britain staying in the EU because it makes it easier for them to move money, people and products around the world. BT chairman Sir Mike Rake, a recent CBI president, says there are “no credible alternatives” to staying in the EU. But others disagree, such as Lord Bamford, chairman of JCB, who says an EU exit would allow the UK to negotiate trade deals as our country “rather than being one of 28 nations”. Many small and medium-sized firms would welcome a cut in red tape and what they see as petty regulations. The British Chambers of Commerce says 55% of members back staying in a reformed EU.
Find out more:
Business for Britain wants big changes to the UK’s relations with the EU and says the UK should be prepared to vote to leave if the changes are not achieved
Business for New Europe is a coalition of business leaders who support the UK’s membership of the EU and “oppose withdrawal to the margins”.
What are the rules for campaigning?
The Electoral Commission is in charge of making sure it’s a fair contest. It will select a designated lead campaign for both the “leave” and “remain” sides. The official campaigns will get access to a grant of up to £600,000, an overall spending limit of £7m, campaign broadcasts, free mailshots and free access to meeting rooms. Other groups are free to run their own campaigns but they will be limited to a spend of £700,000 if they register with the Electoral Commission and will have to report the source of donations. If they don’t register with the Commission they will be limited to spending less than £10,000. The Electoral Commission has published a guide to the rules.
How much can the parties spend?
The spending limit for political parties depend on the percentage of the vote they received at the general election. The Conservatives have the highest spending limit – £7m – because they got the most votes at the general election. Labour is limited to £5.5m, UKIP £4m and the Lib Dems £3m. The SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru and other parties that got less than 5% of votes cast in May will be limited to £700,000.
So who is going to be leading the rival sides in the campaign?
This has yet to be decided – but here are the main groups of either side of the argument.
Britain Stronger in Europe – the main cross-party group campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU, headed by former Marks and Spencer chairman Lord Rose. It is seen as certain to get the official Electoral Commission designation to head the Remain campaign.
Vote Leave campaign – A cross-party campaign that grew out of Business for Britain, headed by former Conservative chancellor Lord Lawson. Key figures include former Conservative adviser Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott, who ran the successful No2AV campaign and has the backing of the five cabinet ministers and other Conservatives such as Boris Johnson and Priti Patel. It also has the backing of Labour Leave, which is headed by Labour donor John Mills.
Grassroots Out Movement – An umbrella group including the relatively new Grassroots Out group – founded by Conservative MPs Peter Bone and Tom Pursglove and Labour MP Kate Hoey in January – and Leave.EU. Funded by UKIP donor Arron Banks and other business people, it has the backing of longstanding Eurosceptic groups, some Conservative MPs and UKIP, plus others such as the former Respect MP George Galloway.
The Electoral Commission is expected to make its decision on which group will head the Leave campaign within weeks of the referendum date being announced. It will judge each applicant’s merits on the basis of a range of criteria, such as level of cross-party support, campaign tactics and organisational capacity.
Thanks for sending in your questions. Here are a selection of them, and our answers:
Which MP’s are for staying and which are for leaving?
The good news for Edward, from Cambridge, who asked this question, is we have been working on exactly such a list. Click here for the latest version..
Will it simply be the case of all votes being counted to give two totals?
Yes, is the answer to this question from William from West Sussex. All the votes will be counted and then added up, with a straight majority needed to provide the result. In answer to some other people’s questions, there is no minimum turnout needed. So if, for the sake of argument, only three people voted on the day, if two of them voted to leave, that would be the result.
I’m away on holiday for the week of 23 June – can I still vote?
The good news for Dean from West Sussex – and the many others of you who asked the same question – is that you will be able to vote by post, as people can in local and general elections. Here’s the Electoral Commission’s guide to applying to vote by post.
When will the campaigns actually begin?
Michael, from Royal Leamington Spa, is still sitting on the fence (he is not alone if the polls are to be believed). He wants to know when the official Leave and Remain campaigns get under way. Both sides in the debate are already making their arguments, which are unlikely to change much between now and polling day. But the official campaign period is from 15 April to 23 June. The Electoral Commission will designate official campaigns to represent either side of the argument, which will be entitled to TV broadcasts and help with campaigning costs. The Commission must decide by 14 April.
When and how will the results be announced?
In answer to a question from John, from Lewes, counts will get under way when polls close at 22:00 GMT Thursday, 23 June at 382 local centres around the UK. These local results will be declared as the counts are completed before being collated at 12 regional centres, which will also declare the totals for each side. A chief counting officer will then announce the overall result at Manchester Town Hall.
If the UK left the EU would UK citizens need special permits to work in the EU?
Lots of people asked about this. A lot would depend on the kind of deal the UK agreed with the EU after exit. If it remained within the single market, it would almost certainly retain free movement rights allowing UK citizens to work in the EU and vice versa. If the government opted to impose work permit restrictions, as UKIP wants, then other countries could reciprocate, meaning Britons would have to apply for visas to work.
What about EU nationals who want to work in the UK?
As explained in the answer above, it would depend on whether the UK government decided to introduce a work permit system of the kind that currently applies to non-EU citizens, limiting entry to skilled workers in professions where there are shortages.
Would leaving the EU mean we wouldn’t have to abide by the European Court of Human Rights?
Duncan, from Chippenham, wanted to know if the UK could deport terror suspects to their own countries to face charges without being overruled by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.
The ECHR is not a European Union institution. It was set up by the Council of Europe, which has 47 members including Russia and Ukraine. So quitting the EU would not exempt the UK from its decisions.
The UK government is, however, committed to repealing the Human Rights Act which requires UK courts to treat the ECHR as setting legal precedents for the UK, in favour of a British Bill of Rights. As part of that, David Cameron is expected to announce measures that will boost the powers of courts in England and Wales to over-rule judgements handed down by the ECHR.
Has any member state ever left the EU, or would the UK be the first?
Pauline, from Shipston on Stour, asked this one. No nation state has ever left the EU. But Greenland, one of Denmark’s overseas territories, held a referendum in 1982, after gaining a greater degree of self government, and voted by 52% to 48% to leave, which it duly did after a period of negotiation. The BBC’s Carolyn Quinnvisited Greenland at the end of last year to find out how they did it.
If we stay in do we keep the pound for ever?
It is up the UK government to decide whether or not to keep the pound or switch to the euro. The deal David Cameron struck with the EU included recognition that the UK has no plans to switch to the euro currency.
How much does the UK contribute to the EU and how much do we get in return?
In answer to this query from Nancy from Hornchurch – the UK is one of 10 member states who pay more into the EU budget than they get out, only France and Germany contribute more. In 2014/15, Poland was the largest beneficiary, followed by Hungary and Greece.
The UK also gets an annual rebate that was negotiated by Margaret Thatcher and money back, in the form of regional development grants and payments to farmers, which added up to £4.6bn in 2014/15. According to the latest Treasury figures, the UK’s net contribution for 2014/15 was £8.8bn – nearly double what it was in 2009/10.
To put that in context, it is about £24m a day or about 1.4% of total public annual spending – slightly less than the energy and climate change department’s annual budget. Some leave campaigners say the UK sends £55m a day to the EU but that is based on gross figures, which is a fair approximation of the UK’s “membership fee” but does not take rebates and money back into account.
The National Audit Office, using a different formula which takes into account EU money paid directly to private sector companies and universities to fund research, and measured over the EU’s financial year, shows the UK’s net contribution for 2014 was £5.7 bn.
If I retire to Spain or another EU country will my healthcare costs still be covered?
David, from East Sussex, is worried about what would happen to his retirement plans if Britain votes to leave the EU. This is one of those issues where it is not possible to say definitively what would happen. At the moment, the large British expat community in Spain gets free access to Spanish GPs and their hospital treatment is paid for by the NHS. After they become permanent residents Spain pays for their hospital treatment. Similar arrangements are in place with other EU countries.
If Britain leaves the EU but remains in the single market, or the European Economic Area as it is known, it might be able to continue with this arrangement, according to a House of Commons library research note. If Britain has to negotiate trade deals with individual member states, it may opt to continue paying for expats’ healthcare through the NHS or decide that they would have to cover their own costs if they continue to live abroad, if the country where they live declines to do so.
Will the opinion polls get it wrong again?
The short answer is that we’ll find out on 24 June! John Wilkinson wrote to ask whether we are in for a repeat of the general election when the opinion polls underestimated support for one side, the Conservatives, and overstated support for the other, Labour. As Mr Wilkinson points out, research suggests younger people are more likely to vote to remain in the EU, while older voters tend to favour out. But as a general rule, older people are more likely to vote in elections than younger people. The “don’t knows” are also running at between 17% and 20%. Prof John Curtice, who supervised the general election exit poll, has also noticed a difference between polls conducted online, which suggest the race is close, and ones conducted over the telephone, which put the Remain campaign ahead.
Opinion polling is not an exact science – for more information on the latest referendum polls and analysis by Prof Curtice, visit the National Centre for Social Research’s What UK thinks site.
Who counts as a British citizen?
Jude wanted to know if his Peruvian girlfriend, who is a British citizen but has been living in Peru for five years, can take part in the referendum. The answer is yes, if she has appeared on the UK electoral register in the past 15 years.
How long will it take for Britain to leave the EU?
This was a question asked by many people. The minimum period after a vote to leave would be two years. During that time Britain would continue to abide by EU treaties and laws, but not take part in any decision-making, as it negotiated a withdrawal agreement and the terms of its relationship with the now 27 nation bloc. In practice it may take longer than two years, depending on how the negotiations go.
Could MP’s block an EU exit if Britain votes for it?
Michael, from East Sussex asks an intriguing question – could the necessary legislation pass the Commons if all SNP and Lib Dems, nearly all Labour and many Conservative MP’s were in favor of staying?
The answer is that technically MP’s could block an EU exit – but it would be seen as political suicide to go against the will of the people as expressed in a referendum. The referendum result is not legally binding – Parliament still has to pass the laws that will get Britain out of the 28 nation bloc, starting with the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act.
The withdrawal agreement would also have to be ratified by Parliament – the House of Lords and/or the Commons could vote against ratification, according to a House of Commons library report.
It adds: “If the Commons resolves against ratification, the treaty can still be ratified if the Government lays a statement explaining why the treaty should nonetheless be ratified and the House of Commons does not resolve against ratification a second time within 21 days (this process can be repeated ad infinitum).”
In practice, Conservative MPs who voted to remain in the EU would be whipped to vote with the government. Any who defied the whip would have to face the wrath of voters at the next general election.
One scenario that could see the referendum result overturned, is if MPs forced a general election and a party campaigned on a promise to keep Britain in the EU, got elected and then claimed that the election mandate topped the referendum one. Two thirds of MPs would have to vote for a general election to be held before the next scheduled one in 2020.
What will happen to protected species if Britain leaves the EU?
Dee, from Launceston, wanted to know what would happen to EU laws covering protected species such as bats if Britain left. The answer is that they would remain in place, initially at least. After a leave vote, the government would probably review all EU-derived laws in the two years leading up to the official exit date to see which ones to keep or scrap.
The status of Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas, which are designated by the EU, would be reviewed to see what alternative protections could be applied. The same process would apply to European Protected Species legislation, which relate to bats and their habitats.
The government would want to avoid a legislative vacuum caused by the repeal of EU laws before new UK laws are in place – it would also continue to abide by other international agreements covering environmental protection.
How much money will the UK save through changes to migrant child benefits and welfare payments?
Martin, from Poole, in Dorset, wanted to know what taxpayers are likely to get back from the benefit curbs negotiated by David Cameron in Brussels. We don’t exactly know because the details have not been worked out.
HM Revenue and Customs have suggested about 20,000 EU nationals receive child benefit payments in respect of 34,000 children in their country of origin at an estimated cost of about £30m.
But the total saving is likely to be significantly less than that because Mr Cameron did not get the blanket ban he wanted. Instead, payments will be linked to the cost of living in the countries where the children live.
David Cameron has said that as many as 40% of EU migrant families who come to Britain could lose an average of £6,000 a year of in-work benefits when his “emergency brake” is applied. The DWP estimates between 128,700 and 155,100 people would be affected.
But the cuts will be phased in. New arrivals will not get tax credits and other in-work benefits straight away but will gradually gain access to them over a four year period at a rate yet to be decided.
If we leave the EU does it mean we would be barred from the Eurovision Song Contest?
Sophie from Peterborough, who asks the question, need not worry. We have consulted Alasdair Rendall, president of the UK Eurovision fan club, who says: “No, we would not be barred. All participating countries must be a member of the European Broadcasting Union. The EBU – which is totally independent of the EU – includes countries both inside and outside of the EU, and also includes countries such as Israel that are outside of Europe. Indeed the UK started participating in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1957, 16 years before joining the then EEC.”
Do Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK on a limited work visa get to vote?
Brendan, from London, wonders whether Commonwealth citizens need to have been granted indefinite leave to remain to get a vote. The Electoral Commission guidelines say: “Any type of leave to enter or remain is acceptable, whether indefinite, time limited or conditional.” That means all citizens of India, Australia, Pakistan, Canada and 48 other Commonwealth nations who are living in the UK can take part (provided they are old enough and are on the electoral register). As can citizens of British overseas territories, such as the Falkland Islands, Bermuda or Gibraltar, if they are currently residing in the UK. Here is a full list of Commonwealth countries.
Can EU citizens living in the UK vote in the referendum?
No. The rules are the same as at last year’s general election, when EU citizens were also barred from taking part.
What impact would leaving the EU have on house prices?
John, in London, is concerned about what will happen to house prices if Britain leaves the EU and “millions of EU citizens need to leave” creating a flood of available housing. This is one of those questions where there is no clear-cut factual answer. But we can say that none of the main players are suggesting that citizens of other EU countries will be “sent packing” (to use John’s phrase) after a Leave vote. There are a host of other variables that have an impact on property prices, including things like interest rates and the general state of the economy. But expect this to be one of those issues fought over by both sides during the campaign.
What is the ‘red tape’ that the opponents of the EU go on about?
Ged, from Liverpool, suspects “red tape” is a euphemism for employment rights and environmental protection. According to the Open Europe think tank, four of the top five most costly EU regulations are either employment or environment-related. The UK renewable energy strategy, which the think-tank says costs £4.7bn a year, tops the list. The working time directive (£4.2bn a year) – which limits the working week to 48 hours – and the temporary agency workers directive (£2.1bn a year), giving temporary staff many of the same rights as permanent ones – are also on the list.
There is nothing to stop a future UK government reproducing these regulations in British law, if the country left the EU. And the costs of so-called “red tape” would not necessarily disappear overnight in the event of an exit – if Britain opted to follow the “Norway model” and remained in the European Economic Area most of the EU-derived laws would remain in place.
Would Britain be party to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership if it left?
Ste, in Bolton, asked about this. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – or TTIP – currently under negotiation between the EU and United States will create the biggest free trade area the world has ever seen. Cheerleaders for TTIP, including David Cameron, believe it could make American imports cheaper and boost British exports to the US to the tune of £10bn a year. But many on the left, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, fear it will shift more power to multinational corporations, undermine public services, wreck food standards and threaten basic rights. Quitting the EU would mean the UK would not be part of TTIP. It would have negotiated its own trade deal with the US.