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The British EU membership referendum: A breakdown

, by Susi Navara

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Why is the referendum taking place?

In the run up to the British General Election 2014 Prime Minister David Cameron promised that he would call for a referendum on EU membership should he get re-elected. Even though Cameron himself is in favour of membership, a significant portion of his party, the Conservatives, consider themselves Eurosceptic.

Furthermore, Cameron hoped that the prospect of a referendum would take the wind out of the sails of the Eurosceptic, nationalist UK Independence Party (UKIP). The Conservatives gained the majority of seats in Parliament in the election and have already proposed legislation preparing the referendum. (UKIP achieved more than 3m votes, but only one seat in the House of Commons – for an explanation of this discrepancy click HERE.

What is the referendum about?

As already mentioned the outcome of the referendum will dictate whether the UK stays part of the EU. The question asked is likely to be a variant of “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”

When is the referendum taking place?

When Cameron promised the vote he also stated that he would make sure it would take place before 2017. As the Conservatives alone now hold the majority there are no influences on government that could postpone the referendum. Theoretically it would be possible for the referendum to take place as soon as May 2016, however the government has ruled out a date this early, making it more likely for the referendum to take place in autumn 2016 . Furthermore, the Prime Minister will want to solve the EU debate as soon as possible, because his own party is divide on the issue. Thus the longer it remains on the agenda, the more likely internal conflict becomes.

Who gets to vote?

The legislation proposed for the referendum states that British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens above the age of 18 will get to cast their vote. UK citizens living abroad for less than 15 years are also allowed to participate. The exclusion of other EU citizens as well as 16 and 17 year olds has sparked some debate. Even though there is a considerable number of other EU citizens with residency status in the UK, they will not get a say in the referendum that will impact their future. However, extending the vote to other EU citizens would pour oil onto UKIP’s fire if the yes vote wins. Eurosceptics would claim that the outcome of the referendum was dictated by “benefit migrants” rather than the British public. The exclusion of UK citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years includes many British expats, several of whom live within EU borders. Not only will the referendum have a massive impact on their lives, Brits living abroad in the EU are also bound to be pro-European. In the case of a Brexit they would have to go through the same visa procedures other EU citizens would face in the UK. Lastly, not allowing 16 and 17 year olds is not consistent with the Conservatives’ narrative of “letting the people of today, not the people of yesterday decide on the future”. In fact almost a fourth of Cameron’s government will have voted twice in an EU referendum. (The first referendum on membership of the European community took place in 1975 and was won by 67% voting yes.)

How can I get involved in the Yes campaign?

If you currently live in the UK, find your local YEM branch, get involved, bring your ideas to the table and start something together. YEM Cambridge (or CUEUS) will be launching “Cambridge says Yes” in a couple of days. Apart from having an online presence we will build a network of volunteers to produce educational leaflets, host events with the referendum as a theme, make a short film about the impact of the EU on Cambridge and of course publically campaign in various parts of the city. If you don’t live near a YEM branch, build one yourself! Or write for The New Federalist! Or find organisations near you with the same objective! The most important thing is to get politically involved. This referendum is definitely not decided yet and the more you engage with the people around you, the bigger your impact will be.

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