UK Prime Minister David Cameron has set June 23 as the date voters will decide whether or not Britain will stay in the European Union.
The UK has been a member of the EU and its predecessor agencies since 1973. Voters approved membership in 1975 when the UK was a member of the European Economic Community. The powers of the EU have grown substantially since then, and critics say member countries are forced to sacrifice their national sovereignty to Brussels, the EU’s capital.
Cameron, the leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, made a campaign pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017. However, Cameron is campaigning to keep Britain in the EU.
On Friday, Cameron completed negotiations with Brussels on a package of reforms designed to appease Brits who are skeptical of EU membership. EU officials agreed to let the UK impose tighter restrictions on migrants’ access to Britain’s welfare system.
EU citizens are, by in large, allowed to live in the member country of their choosing. In recent years, EU migrants, particularly from Eastern Europe, have poured into the UK, and many receive economic benefits.
A legal challenge, though, poses a threat to the agreement Cameron struck with EU officials over welfare reform. The European Court of Justice could strike down the deal on the grounds that it is discriminatory.
Cameron’s deal with Brussels also states the EU cannot force the UK to adopt the euro or to bail out eurozone states. The UK has refrained from joining eurozone, the EU’s monetary union, since the euro entered circulation in 1999.
Over that period, the British pound has remained stronger than the euro, and concerns have grown over the euro’s viability due to the wide range of economies that exists within the eurozone.
Those still opposed to EU membership point to the numerous regulations Brussels forces member countries to adopt and the billions of pounds the UK must pay every year in membership fees. Opponents of EU membership also tend to call for the UK to reclaim control of its borders, and they often express concerns over Brussels mandating further political and economic integration.
Proponents of the UK staying in the EU argue Britain’s economy will suffer if the country leaves the political union. A British exit, now known as a Brexit, would likely result in the EU imposing tariffs upon goods the UK exports to member states.
Supporter of EU membership tend to be proponents of immigration, often arguing immigrants provide a boost to the economy. Likewise, many advocates of staying in the EU say Britain will lose clout in geopolitics if it leaves the European superstate.
On June 23, British voters will answer the following question:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
Supporters of “Stay,” the campaign to remain in the EU, include Cameron, the Labour Party, big banks and several multinational corporations. The “Leave” campaign has the support of a minority contingent of Cameron’s cabinet, as well as the UK Independence Party, which is known for its opposition to the EU.
London Mayor Boris Johnson, also a member of the Conservative Party, announced his support for the “Leave” side on Sunday. The Conservative Party is not taking an official stance on the referendum.
Current polling shows “Stay” to have a slight edge over “Leave.” But, some say Cameron’s campaign is in a race against time.
Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis likely caused Cameron to accelerate talks with the EU and set an early date for the referendum. A new wave of asylum seekers is expected to come to Europe this summer, and public opinion has been turning against the mass migration.
If the UK were to leave the EU, it would become the first sovereign country to withdraw from the union.