The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 28 countries, formed after World War II in an attempt to encourage co-operation following the hostile nationalism that emerged through war. The EU is a ‘single market’, meaning goods, money and people can move freely between all member states.
A referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU is happening this year because David Cameron pledged to hold one if he won the 2015 General Election. His promise was a response to sustained pressure from some Conservative party members and UKIP, who say the EU has changed immeasurably since the public were last asked about membership in 1975.
What am I actually voting for?
A referendum is simply a Yes or No vote in which the option with over half of all votes will win. The UK’s EU membership referendum will take place on Thursday 23rd June in polling stations around the country. The question you will be asked is “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
Which side are our politicians on?
While the Conservative party have pledged to stay neutral due to internal disagreement over the issue, the ‘Remain’ side is backed by David Cameron and George Osborne as well as 15 other cabinet ministers. The Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have also officially backed staying in the EU. The ‘Leave’ camp has the support of UKIP and some high-profile ministers such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
What are some of the main talking points?
Business and money have dominated the debate so far, but with the EU having little influence over things like minimum wages and tax (apart from VAT rates), this has largely focused on trade. While supporters of the EU have pointed out how much of the UK’s economy relies on exports to EU countries, those backing a ‘Leave’ vote have argued that EU trading agreements hold the UK back from deals with lucrative markets such as China and India.
Of course, against the backdrop of the worldwide ‘migrant crisis’, immigration is also a key point of contention between the two sides. Leave supporters who are unhappy with levels of immigration argue that exiting the EU would allow tighter border controls and remove obligations to receive EU migrants. Supporters of the EU, on the other hand, have made the moral case for welcoming migrants, as well as pointing out how much the UK’s economy relies on migrant labour. Campaigners have also highlighted how the free movement of people benefits UK citizens, ensuring our easy travel and migration to other EU member states.
Arguably having received less attention are the implications for rights and protections, perhaps most notably at work. ‘Remain’ supporters point out that maternity leave and equal pay legislation were secured by the EU, as well as safe working hours and paid annual leave. While ‘Leave’ campaigners argue the importance of this type of legislation being decided afresh at a national level, many of their opponents worry about the sudden loss of a whole host of workers’ rights and protections in the event of a vote to exit.
How should I vote?
How you vote depends largely on which issues you prioritise and where you stand on those, as well as your trust of the UK’s politicians and how they might govern without external regulation. With just over a month to go, polls are currently showing the vote difference as too close to call – so every vote will count.