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 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.