Proposed referendum on United Kingdom membership of the European Union

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Referendum on United Kingdom membership of the European Union
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?[1]
Results
Result not yet known

A referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union will take place before 31 December 2017.[2]

Following the May 2015 general election, the newly reelected British Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated a Conservative Party manifesto commitment to hold an "in/out" referendum on British membership of the European Union (EU) by the end of 2017.[3] Mr Cameron promised in January 2013 to hold such a referendum if his party won an outright majority.

Since 2010, polls have indicated that the British public is divided on the question, with opposition peaking in November 2012 at 56% compared to 30% who wanted to remain and support peaking in 2013.[4] The largest ever poll (20,000) showed the public to be split on the issue, with 41% in favour of withdrawal, 41% in favour of membership, and 18% undecided.[5] However, when asked how they would vote if Britain renegotiates its terms with the EU, and the government says British interests are better protected, a wide majority of over 50% said they would vote to stay.[6]

While no state has ever withdrawn from the EU, Greenland, part of the Danish Realm, voted to leave the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community (EEC), in 1985, and Algeria left upon independence in 1962, having been a part of France until then. The United Kingdom European Communities membership referendum, 1975 endorsed the continuation of the UK's membership of the EEC.[7]

After the Labour 2015 General Election defeat, interim leader Harriet Harman stated that Labour would also now support plans for an EU referendum by 2017.[8] However, the Liberal Democrats still oppose the policy of guaranteeing a referendum in 2017, holding instead that a referendum should only be held if there is a further transfer of sovereignty to the European Union.[9]

History[edit]

In January 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that if elected in the 2015 general election, a Conservative government would negotiate new agreements with the European Union and would then hold a referendum on whether to remain in or to leave the EU.[10] Political leaders in the EU criticized the possibility of British renegotiation of its membership of the Union and publicly supported Britain's continued membership.[11] Public polls in France and Germany favoured a British exit.[11] The Obama administration has warned against a British exit from the European Union, arguing that it would reduce the British "voice" in the EU, which was not in the best interest of the United States.[12]

Cameron had previously rejected a referendum on Britain's EU membership, but suggested the possibility of a future referendum to ensure the UK's position within an evolving EU has the "full-hearted support of the British people".[13] The Labour Party say they do not support a referendum at the current time, but have not ruled it out for the future. The Liberal Democrats have said they do not support an in/out referendum because it is within Britain's interests to remain a member. The UK Independence Party, the British National Party, the Green Party of England and Wales,[14] and the Respect Party[15] all support a referendum.

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer and member of the House of Lords Nigel Lawson called for the UK to leave the EU in an article for The Times in May 2013.[16] He said the move would be a "wake-up call" to businesses, and would allow "great exporting opportunities to the developing world, especially Asia."[16] Prime Minister David Cameron faced calls from backbenchers to hold a referendum on EU membership before the 2015 General Election after the UK Independence Party's success in the 2013 county council elections.[17]

Doubts have been raised as to whether a referendum can settle the long-running arguments and tensions the issue of Europe causes in UK politics. According to some analysis the European question in British politics is too multifaceted to be settled by a single in-out vote.[18] As a think tank report analysing proposals for an in-out referendum made clear: "Settling the European question and bringing stability to Britain’s relations with the EU – whether in or outside the EU – will require comprehensive, longer-term changes, which a referendum can help trigger but in no way guarantee."[19]

Private member's bill[edit]

In May 2013, the Conservative Party published a draft EU referendum bill and outlined their plans for renegotiation and then an in-out vote if returned to office in 2015.[20] The draft bill stated that the referendum must be held no later than 31 December 2017.[21]

The draft was taken forward as a private member's bill by Conservative MP James Wharton.[22] The bill's first reading in the House of Commons was made on 19 June 2013.[23] The prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, was said by a spokesman to be "very pleased" and would ensure the bill was given "the full support of the Conservative Party".[24]

Regarding the ability of the bill to force the next parliament into holding a referendum, a parliamentary research paper has noted that:

"The Bill simply provides for a referendum on continued EU membership by the end of December 2017 and does not otherwise specify the timing, other than requiring the Secretary of State to bring forward orders by the end of 2016. These orders would need both Houses to agree to the detailed rules for the poll and the date. If no party obtained a majority at the next general election due in 2015, there might be some uncertainty about the passage of the orders in the next Parliament. Unless the orders are passed, it would not appear possible to hold the referendum, since the day and the conduct of the poll would not have received parliamentary assent."[25]

The Bill received its second reading on 5 July 2013 by 304 vote to nil after almost all Labour MPs and all Liberal Democrat MPs abstained.[26] and finally cleared the Commons in November 2013. It was introduced to the House of Lords in December 2013, but failed to pass after the Lords voted to block the bill.[27]

Conservative Party MP Bob Neill has promised to reintroduce the bill into the commons after coming third in an annual ballot for private members' bills.[28] If an identical bill is again passed by the Commons, the Lords will not be able to stop it coming into force under the Parliament Act.

Television debates[edit]

In March and April 2014, two head-to-head debates between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage on the issue of leaving the European Union were broadcast in the UK.[29] The first hour-long debate, hosted by Nick Ferrari, was broadcast on radio station LBC on 26 March,[30][31][32][33] and was followed by The European Union: In or Out, televised live on BBC Two on 2 April.[29]

Snap polls by YouGov and ICM suggested that Farage performed best in the debate,[34] but the BBC's Nick Robinson suggested in his analysis that "history will record that Nigel Farage was the winner of these debates. Nick Clegg will hope that, nevertheless, he may have won something too by being seen to challenge Britain's political insurgent."[35]

Procedure[edit]

No member state has ever left the European Union. The United Kingdom voted to remain a member of the European Communities in a 1975 referendum. Three former territories of EU member states have withdrawn from the EU (or its predecessors): Algeria (1962),[36] Greenland (1985)[37] and Saint Barthélemy (2012) with the latter two becoming Overseas Countries and Territories of the European Union.

Before the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009, no provision in the treaties or law of the European Union outlined the ability of a member state to voluntarily withdraw from the EU.[38]

The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe provided that any member could voluntarily leave the Union of its own accord[39] but this treaty was never ratified. However the voluntary withdrawal clause survived into the Lisbon Treaty as Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.[40]

This new provision formalised the procedure by stating that a member state may notify the European Council that it wishes to withdraw, upon which withdrawal negotiations begin. If no other agreement is reached the treaty ceases to apply to the withdrawing state two years after such notification.

The remaining members of the EU would also need to undertake negotiations to manage the changes to the EU's budgets, voting allocations and policies brought about by the withdrawal of a member state.[41]

Consequences of withdrawal[edit]

Were the UK to withdraw from the EU, its relationship with the organisation could take several forms. A research paper presented to the parliament of the UK proposed a number of alternatives to membership which would continue to allow it access to the EU's internal market, including European Economic Area (EEA) membership (which would require European Free Trade Association (EFTA) membership) and the Swiss model of a number of bilateral treaties covering free trade.[42]

EFTA EEA members must adopt EU single market legislation, with the EU not obliged to listen to EFTA members views.[43][44] The EEA agreement does not cover common agriculture and fisheries policies, customs union, common trade policy, common foreign and security policy, direct and indirect taxation and justice and home affairs, leaving EFTA EEA members free to set their own policies in these areas.[45] Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein currently have this relationship. EEA countries and Switzerland contribute to the EU budget in exchange for their access to the single market.[46]

UKIP have proposed that the UK could attempt to create a Commonwealth Free Trade Area to compensate for trade lost by leaving the EU single market.[47] The idea of a series of bilateral free trade agreements, or even a full Commonwealth Free Trade Area was discussed at the 2005 Malta Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. In response, the European Movement pointed out that the UK trades more with Ireland than with all the leading developing countries combined, the so-called BRIC economics of Brazil, Russia, India and China (only one of which, India, is in the Commonwealth).[48] The European Movement also notes that the British economy is most similar to other European economies as opposed to other countries.[48]

Around 1.4 million British nationals have exercised their right to freedom of movement to live, work or study in the European Union according to the British government.[49] British citizens are currently able to study in EEA countries at the same cost as charged to their own citizens: this arrangement applies equally between EU states. Were Britain to leave the EU and the EEA, British citizens would lose these rights. The status of the Common Travel Area between a UK outside the EU and EU member Ireland remains to be clarified.

Response[edit]

Business opinion[edit]

Car manufacturers Ford and BMW have warned Prime Minister David Cameron against an EU exit, insisting it would be "devastating" for the British economy.[50]

A February–March 2013 survey of 4,387 companies by business lobby group the British Chambers of Commerce found that 18 per cent of UK companies were in favour of entire withdrawal from the European Union,[51] and that 33 per cent of businesses were in favour of withdrawal and negotiating a free-trade deal. 60 per cent said a withdrawal could "harm their business",[51] while 23 per cent said that further integration would be "beneficial" for their company.[51] On commenting on the survey, the groups General Director, John Longworth, said “These findings suggest that U.K. businesses increasingly feel that some sort of change to Britain’s relationship with the EU is needed to boost our trading prospects."

In September 2013, a YouGov/Business for Britain survey of 1024 UK business leaders found that by 46% - 37%, British businesses said that the costs of the Single Market out-weigh the benefits of being in the EU, by 66% - 26%, businesses support a referendum on the EU, and by 56% - 23%, business leaders believe a meaningful change would require a treaty change, and would like to see Britain's relationship with the EU focused on trade.[52]

International reaction[edit]

In response to David Cameron's January 2013 speech on the EU, several countries submitted their views on the proposal and on the UK-EU relationship. The U.S. Obama administration expressed the belief that the United Kingdom is stronger in the European Union, and that the EU is stronger through having British membership.[53] The German Defence Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, claimed that it would diminish British influence in NATO.[54] French President Francois Hollande, in a speech to the European Parliament, said there could be no à la carte option for European membership.[55] In response to British Foreign Secretary William Hague's review of EU competencies, the Japanese Government said "The Government of Japan...expects that the UK will maintain a strong voice and continue to play a major role in the EU".[56] In July 2013, a letter from the Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said "Australia recognises the UK's strength and resilience and looks forward to seeing it continue as a leading economy and effective power. Strong effective membership of the EU contributes to this."[57] The Swedish finance minister, Anders Borg, expressed that this was a serious matter, and that for Sweden the issue raised some concerns and could reorient the EU.[58]

A report by Tim Oliver of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs noted that there has been little analysis of what a British withdrawal could mean for the EU. The report argues a UK withdrawal "has the potential to fundamentally change the EU and European integration. On the one hand, a withdrawal could tip the EU towards protectionism, exacerbate existing division, or unleash centrifugal forces leading to the EU’s unravelling. Alternatively, the EU could free itself of its most awkward member, making the EU easier to lead and more effective."[41]

Labour for a Referendum[edit]

Labour for a Referendum (LfR) is a political campaign by members of the Labour Party that seeks a referendum in the United Kingdom on the European Union.[59] The movement was set up following a pledge by the Conservative Party to hold an in-out vote if re-elected in 2015.[59][dated info]

Let Britain Decide[edit]

Let Britain Decide is a political campaign by the Conservative Party that seeks a referendum on the UK's relationship with the European Union.[60] It was set up in June 2013 by party chairman Grant Shapps MP. The movement aims to force an in-out vote commitment on EU membership from all three major parties.[citation needed]

Exit plan competition[edit]

Following David Cameron's announcement of an EU referendum, British think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) announced in July 2013 a competition to find the best plan for a UK exit from the European Union, declaring that a departure is a 'real possibility' after the next election.[61] Those interested were asked to submit a 2,000-word proposal by 16 September 2013, with seventeen of the best entrants being asked to produce a more detailed version.[62] Eight judges, including former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, decided the winner.[62] The winning entry was awarded 100,000 euros (£86,525), and was announced on 8 April 2014.[62][63]

Announced on 26 March 2014, the six finalists for the Brexit prize were Rory Broomfield and Iain Murray (coauthored submission), Professor Stephen Bush, Ben Clements, Tim Hewish, Iain Mansfield, and Daniel Pycock.[64]

Iain Mansfield submitted the winning proposal, A Blueprint for Britain: Openness not Isolation.[62] Mansfield's submission focused on addressing both trade and regulatory issues with EU members as well as other UK global trading partners.[63][65][dated info]

Opinion polling[edit]

Standard polling on EU membership[edit]

The tables below show polling on whether the UK should be in or out of the EU. It does not ask the question in the context of a proposed prior renegotiation.

2015[edit]

Date(s) conducted stay leave Unsure Sample Held by Notes
28-31 May 47% 33% 20% 680 ICM Unlimited Northern Ireland not sampled
29 May 44% 36% 20% 1,000 Norstat UK/Sunday Express Northern Ireland not sampled
21–22 May 44% 36% 17% 1,532 YouGov/Sunday Times Northern Ireland not sampled
7 April-13 May 55% 36% 9% 999 Pew Research Center Northern Ireland not sampled
8–9 May 45% 36% 16% 1,302 YouGov/Sunday Times Northern Ireland not sampled
8–9 May 45% 38% 18% 991 Survation/Mail on Sunday Northern Ireland not sampled
3–5 May 56% 34% 10% 1,011 ComRes/ITV Daily Mail Northern Ireland not sampled
3–4 May 45% 33% 18% 1,664 YouGov/The Sun Northern Ireland not sampled
28–29 April 52% 32% 16% 1,823 YouGov/Times Red Box Northern Ireland not sampled
23–28 April 47% 33% 17% 1,834 YouGov Eurotrack Northern Ireland not sampled
19–20 April 45% 35% 16% 2,078 YouGov/The Sun Northern Ireland not sampled
10–12 April 40% 39% 17% 2,036 Populus/Financial Times Northern Ireland not sampled
8–9 April 45% 41% 14% 1,750 Opinium/Observer Northern Ireland not sampled
26–30 March 35% 34% 25% 1,197 TNS-BMRB Northern Ireland not sampled
24–26 March 49% 44% 7% 1,007 Panelbase Northern Ireland not sampled
18–25 March 41% 38% 17% 2,006 YouGov Eurotrack Northern Ireland not sampled
22–23 March 46% 36% 15% 1,641 YouGov/The Sun Northern Ireland not sampled
18–23 March 42% 34% 20% 8,271 YouGov/The Times Northern Ireland not sampled
23–24 February 45% 37% 13% 1,520 YouGov Eurotrack Northern Ireland not sampled
22–23 February 45% 35% 17% 1,772 YouGov/The Sun Northern Ireland not sampled
17–20 February 41% 44% 14% 1,975 Opinium/Observer Northern Ireland not sampled
25–26 January 43% 37% 14% 1,656 YouGov/The Sun Northern Ireland not sampled
18–19 January 43% 38% 15% 1,747 YouGov/British Influence Northern Ireland not sampled
15–19 January 38% 34% 23% 1,188 TNS-BMRB Northern Ireland not sampled
6–8 January 37% 40% 18% 1,201 TNS-BMRB Northern Ireland not sampled

2014[edit]

2013[edit]

2012[edit]

2011[edit]

2010[edit]

Regional polling[edit]

Date(s) conducted stay leave Unsure Sample Held by Notes
19-21 May 2015 54% 25% 21% 1,001 YouGov/Sunday Post Scotland
4–6 May 2015 47% 33% 16% 1,202 YouGov/ITV Wales Wales
24–27 March 2015 44% 38% 14% 1,189 YouGov/ITV Wales Wales
5–9 March 2015 43% 36% 17% 1,279 YouGov/ITV Wales Wales
19–26 February 2015 63% 33% 4% 1,000 ICM/BBC Wales
29 January – 2 February 2015 52% 29% 17% 1,001 YouGov/The Times Scotland
19–21 January 2015 44% 36% 16% 1,036 YouGov/ITV Wales Wales
9–14 January 2015 42% 37% 21% 1,007 Panelbase/Wings Over Scotland Scotland
2–5 December 2014 42% 39% 15% 1,131 YouGov/ITV Wales Wales
17–19 November 2014 45% 37% 14% 1,124 YouGov/The Evening Standard London
6–13 November 2014 47% 35% 18% 1,001 Survation/Daily Record Scotland
30 October -5 November 2014 41% 38% 19% 1,000 Panelbase/Wings Over Scotland Scotland
8–11 September 2014 43% 37% 15% 1,025 YouGov/ITV Wales Wales
26 June-1 July 2014 41% 36% 18% 1,035 YouGov/ITV Wales Wales
21–24 February 2014 54% 40% 6% 1,000 ICM/BBC Wales
20–25 June 2013 41% 39% 20% 1,269 YouGov/Evening Standard London
4–9 February 2013 54% 33% 13% 1,003 Ipsos MORI/The Times Scotland

Renegotiated terms[edit]

The proposed referendum discussed in this article would be on the basis of a prior renegotiation by the British government of its relationship with Europe. The tables below show polling when the question is asked on this basis.

2015[edit]

Date(s) conducted stay leave Unsure Sample Held by Notes
8–9 May 58% 24% 16% 1,302 YouGov/Sunday Times Northern Ireland not sampled
3–4 May 56% 20% 20% 1,664 YouGov/The Sun Northern Ireland not sampled
19–20 April 57% 22% 17% 2,078 YouGov/The Sun Northern Ireland not sampled
22–23 March 57% 22% 18% 1,641 YouGov/The Sun Northern Ireland not sampled
22–23 February 57% 21% 17% 1,772 YouGov/The Sun Northern Ireland not sampled
25–26 January 54% 25% 16% 1,656 YouGov/The Sun Northern Ireland not sampled
18–19 January 57% 21% 19% 1,747 YouGov/British Influence Northern Ireland not sampled

2014[edit]

2013[edit]

Other opinion polling[edit]

On UK withdrawal[edit]

  • Wales Wales 
    • A poll conducted by WalesOnline in June 2013 found that 37% of people in Wales would opt to withdraw from the European Union whereas 29% said they would vote to stay in. More than one in five (21%), said they would not vote with 14% saying they don't know how they would vote.[66] Of the 1,015 people surveyed between 14 and 25 June, the poll found that support for leaving was greatest in the South Wales Valleys, and fewest in south-west Wales. The only age group to show a majority of those wishing to stay in were between 18 and 25.[66]
  • France France – A poll conducted by French daily newspaper Le Parisien found that 52% of French voters were in favour of the UK withdrawing from the EU.[67] Of the 1,136 people polled, in conjunction with French research agency BVA in January 2013, 48% said they would rather the UK remained inside the EU.[68]
  • Germany Germany – A study carried out by Internationale Politik found 64% of Germans favoured Britain remaining inside the EU – with just 36% saying they favoured an exit.[69] The biggest support for retaining the union with the UK was with the younger generation with 69% of 18–25 year-olds saying they wanted the UK to stay.[69] Amongst the German political parties, the supporters of the Green Party remained most favourable at 85%.[69]
  • Republic of Ireland Ireland – Ireland remains largely opposed to a British exit from the EU.[70]

On the possible withdrawal of other countries[edit]

  • Denmark Denmark – A poll commissioned in January 2013 following David Cameron's EU referendum speech found that 52% of Danes would still want their country to stay within the EU even if the UK opted to withdraw.[71] However, 47% said they would like the government to attempt to renegotiate the terms of their membership.[71]
  • Republic of Ireland Ireland – A Red C poll, commissioned by European Movement Ireland in January 2013, found most Irish people would opt for Ireland to remain inside the EU – 66% – even if the UK decided to leave.[70] Just 29% of those asked said that Ireland should leave if the UK does.[70]

Previous campaigns to hold a referendum on EU membership[edit]

Referendum Party[edit]

Main article: Referendum Party

The Referendum Party was formed in 1994 by Sir James Goldsmith to contest the 1997 General Election, on a platform of providing a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU.[72] It stood candidates in 547 constituencies in the election, winning 810,860 votes, but failed to win a seat in Parliament and lost its deposit in 505 constituencies.[73]

2010 campaign by Nikki Sinclaire[edit]

In July 2010 Nikki Sinclaire (MEP) launched a campaign for a referendum with the aim of collecting 100,000 signatures calling for a referendum on the UK's continued membership in the European Union.[74] The Campaign's first roadshow was held in Stoke-on-Trent on 29 July 2010[75] and it visited over 50 towns and cities in the West Midlands. Alongside her weekly road shows, she created a magazine which by April 2012 was in its fourth issue.[76] The magazine has gathered cross party support. As of August 2011, the petition had attracted over 100,000 signatures.[77]

An electronic petition, set-up by the Daily Express, attracted more than 59,000 signatures from its creation in August 2011 to its end in August 2012.[78]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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