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Published on June 11th, 2015 | by Laura Davey
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UK & THE E.U. : Where We Stand

If you’ve got a head for politics, I’m sure the EU referendum is no great surprise. But if, like me, you’ve only managed to catch the odd glimpse of the debate on the news, Catch is here to help. What is the referendum all about? And should the UK get involved? Read on to find out how and where Britain stands.

Despite being a nightmare to spell, the definition of ‘referendum’ online is simple: it is a large, direct vote in which all the people in a country or area are asked for their opinion on a political question. Rather than just letting the government decide alone, a referendum voices more opinions as well as bringing up any issues with what is being proposed. So what are we all supposed to be shouting about? And what is the UK asking of the EU?

According to the draft referendum bill published by the Conservatives in 2013, the question is simple: ‘Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?’ And like any good question concerning the UK, Britain has turned to its newly elected Prime Minister for answers…

Even before stepping (back) into power, David Cameron and his Conservative cronies were keen to reform the UK’s relationship with the EU, placing their desire to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership at the forefront of their election campaign. Under Conservative control, Cameron plans to shape the existing ‘terms’ Britain holds with the EU ready for a referendum in 2017/18.

With the event itself not taking place for almost two years, there’s been plenty of room within the political news sphere for speculation ahead of the UK’s vote, especially in light of Cameron’s planned negotiations. Although our new PM has yet to disclose any details of his renegotiation process he’s been pretty extensive across speeches and interviews as to what staying in the EU should mean for the UK. Across various articles as to what staying in the EU could provide or prevent, Cameron is clear: the UK should stay in the EU, providing he gets what his party wants.

By remaining in the EU (but under newly agreed terms) Cameron believes that we Brits will finally be able to restrict access to work benefits for EU migrants as well as providing new access and opportunities to trade in the US and Asian business using free trade deals. Amongst other promises, the PM wants to protect Britain from EU laws and give more power to national parliaments. He wants to free Britain from EU interference without backing the UK out of the EU completely by testing the waters and reshaping existing terms. But it is this ‘reshaping’ which has the rest of Britain wondering whether it may be better to stay out of EU control completely.

Most of the backlashes against Cameron’s plans from UK citizens concern his measures to reduce the number of emigrating EU nationals. He plans to delay work benefits for up to four years for EU migrants whilst combatting unemployment or wasted benefits by promising a deportation cap if EU nationals remain out of work for more than six months.

Despite apparently wanting to keep Britain chummy with our EU counterparts, Cameron’s policies appear tough to those seeking work in the UK, leaving current migrants feeling unsettled and threatened by the newly elected government. Among work benefits, Cameron also plans to cut child benefit for EU members moving to Britain as well as placing yet more restrictions on their right to bring non-EU family members into the country.  For UK citizens however, his promises taste a little sweeter as Cameron pledges to install longer re-entry bans for anyone ‘removed’ from the UK as well as a quicker deportation process for migrant criminals. For those sceptical of Cameron’s plans however, migrant or no, one has to wonder just who the PM is attempting to punish… The ‘beggars and fraudsters’ being sent away from this country or those waiting on our doorstep… Either way, there are pros and cons for the recipients of the referendum’s outcome, both in the UK and abroad.

Any attempts to renegotiate or change laws on ‘free movement’ within the EU could meet resistance, with the rest of the PMs plans making it even more difficult to drive EU support as the campaign continues.  The EU at present consists of twenty eight state countries, with twenty seven at least having a word or two to say about Cameron’s ideals since stepping into Downing Street last month.

As well as being a minority in deciding to hold a referendum bound to create tension in the EU, the UK’s potentiality for going against Cameron and backing the UK out of the EU altogether has an equal downside. As an EU member, the UK holds more cards at the world tables, exerting more influence over the big powerhouses when discussing foreign policy or attending talks on climate change or world trade rules. We also do well in exports, boosting our economy with the EU’s single market providing access to 500 million customers in Europe alone.

So it seems so far that the UK has nowhere to turn. Since Cameron opened his mouth and flooded the House with his idea of renegotiating the EU’s relationship, it would appear that we’ve been backed into a corner. No way in or out for the country without causing a disturbance. With the media documenting every decision Cameron makes, the tension is unmistakable as the UK wonders what the ‘r’ word could do to a country which has been in the EU for the past 30+ years.

And yet again, like any PM hungry for action, Cameron has doubled the pressure. Though there has been no official statement, the papers have gotten news that Downing Street want the issue dealt with urgently, possibly by bringing the referendum forwards. Perhaps to prevent the copious over-thinking that two years head-scratching over the referendum could bring for both government and society, there’s talk of Cameron bringing the vote forwards to 2016. With a decision of this magnitude, Cameron’s slapdash, quick-as-you-can approach seems careless, unless you consider the merits of a 2016 referendum. The UK will only have a year to negotiate, both in House and in the streets while the country makes it decision, potentially spiralling the referendum panic into a period of confusion and unsettlement for all. For any Brits unaware of the referendum and its potential impact, Cameron has even less time to convince the country and the EU that renegotiation is a good idea.

Maybe that’s why our new PM refuses to see the outcome as a win-lose situation. If his campaign fails, Cameron still holds the power to opt to let Britain leave the EU for good. Though he wants us to stay, the risk of losing his new terms could prove too much and we Brits could be cast out with Cameron at the lead trying to rescue the situation. This view is only amplified by Cameron having openly admitted recently that he would ‘rule nothing out’ in improving the UK’s chances.

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