European Union – in or out? The language of the UK’s referendum

by Liz Walter

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Dem10/iStock/Getty Images Plus

On June 23rd, Britain will decide whether or not to remain part of the European Union (EU). I’m more than happy to bore friends with my own views on the subject, but the purpose of this post is simply to highlight the language of the debate.

The precise question we will be answering is: ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’, and the answer will be decided in a referendum (a national election in which each person has one vote). All citizens of Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth (countries that belonged to the British empire in the past and still have a close relationship with the UK) currently living in the UK can vote. In addition, UK nationals living abroad can vote if they have been on the electoral register (official list of people entitled to vote) in the last 15 years.

So what are the issues connected with this decision? Firstly, the EU operates as a single market. Central to this idea is the free movement of goods and workers between EU countries. This means that workers from countries with high rates of unemployment can move to countries with more jobs. Consequently, the question of immigration is one that is often discussed. In the UK, there has been particular debate over welfare payments (money from the government) to immigrants.

Another big issue is sovereignty (the right of a country to decide its own laws). Many people who favour Brexit (a common, informal word for Britain’s exit from the EU), say they don’t want our country controlled from Brussels. Brexiters also frequently mention the bureaucracy (official rules), more informally called red tape, that they believe the EU brings. They also say we should have full control of our borders (decide who can come into the country).

Those in favour of staying in claim that the EU has brought us many good laws, especially concerning employment standards and the environment. They say that Europe is our main trading partner, and that if we left Europe, we would lose a lot of our influence. We would have to negotiate a new trading relationship, and might even end up in a trade war with Europe. This could affect both imports and exports and we might have to pay a tariff (tax) on both. They also claim that the EU has helped to maintain peace in Europe. Both sides argue over the impact on (consequences for) jobs.

There are many other complex issues connected with the UK’s membership of the EU. In theory, the UK parliament doesn’t have to accept the outcome (result) of the referendum, but they are unlikely to go against the will of the people. Polls are currently showing a fairly even split (the same number of people on each side), so we will have to wait until June 24 to know our future.

15 thoughts on “European Union – in or out? The language of the UK’s referendum

  1. Luc007

    Crystal clear, Liz, as all your posts always are.
    Interestingly, the Brits have coined a word for people who are in favour of opting out (i.e. “Brexit”, hence “Brexiters”), which everybody in the world has heard of and understands, but the word for people who are in favour of staying in (i.e. “Bremain”, hence “Bremainers”), is much less publicised, and even omitted in your article !
    This certainly says tons about the deep-down, unconscious feeling of the British psyche … Europe is definitely not a natural feel for most Brits, and I would venture that probably the majority of “Bremainers” want to stay in for rational reasons, rather than for emotional reasons. The problem is, it is difficult to adhere to an ideal if you do not have at least some emotional involvement in it … Unfortunately, the Europe Union as we know it has probably not done enough to generate among its people (not just the Brits) the kind of emotional involvement that is needed, some sort of patriotic love for Europe as a greater nation than our own particular nations.
    Whatever the result of this referendum, it will at least have proved one thing, there is more to the British people than just a stiff upper lip: surprise, surprise, it is a people with passion deep down at heart …

  2. Harry Matthews

    I can’t help thinking of a legendary 1920’s BBC weather report: “Fog in Channel; Continent isolated.”

  3. Red Star

    Good and effective usage of modern english. On 22 Jun 2016 17:33, “About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog” wrote:

    > Liz Walter posted: “by Liz Walter On June 23rd, Britain will decide > whether or not to remain part of the European Union (EU). I’m more than > happy to bore friends with my own views on the subject, but the purpose of > this post is simply to highlight the language of the ” >

  4. Oleg Markin

    Let me express my congratulations on the result of Brexit. Based on watching the Great Debate and on my own experience being in Europe, I believe that is a right choice, so I’m optimistic about the future of UK, which is not the case for EU. This is why I love your great country and polish up my English.

  5. Rakan

    Interesting subject. I’m not an expert in politics, but I hope UK finds the right path that both citizens and the government agree with.

    Rakan / Saudi Arabia

  6. As above, I don’t know much about politics and have no idea what to think about this Referendum results. Truth is I am still under shock as I didn’t expect this outcome. Thanks for this post.

  7. Pingback: Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2016 – About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

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