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Brexit 101: Easy Guide to UK’s EU Referendum

A referendum – a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part – was held on Thursday 23 June, to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union.

Leave won by 52% to 48%.The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting. It was the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election.

What was the breakdown across the UK?

England voted strongly for Brexit, by 53.4% to 46.6%, as did Wales, with Leave getting 52.5% of the vote and Remain 47.5%.

Scotland and Northern Ireland both backed staying in the EU. Scotland backed Remain by 62% to 38%, while 55.8% in Northern Ireland voted Remain and 44.2% Leave.

What is the European Union?

The European Union – often known as the EU – is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries. It began after World War Two to foster economic co-operation, with the idea that countries which trade together are more likely to avoid going to war with each other.It has since grown to become a “single market” allowing goods and people to move around, basically as if the member states were one country.It has its own currency, the euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries, its own parliament and it now sets rules in a wide range of areas – including on the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things such as mobile phone charges.

What does Brexit mean?

It is a word that has become used as a shorthand way of saying the UK leaving the EU – merging the words Britain and exit to get Brexit, in a same way as a Greek exit from the EU was dubbed Grexit in the past.

What happens now?

For the UK to leave the EU it has to invoke an agreement called Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Cameron or his successor needs to decide when to invoke this – that will then set in motion the formal legal process of withdrawing from the EU, and give the UK two years to negotiate its withdrawal.The article has only been in force since late 2009 and it hasn’t been tested yet, so no-one really knows how the Brexit process will work. EU law still stands in the UK until it ceases being a member – and that process could take some time.The UK will continue to abide by EU treaties and laws, but not take part in any decision-making, as it negotiates a withdrawal agreement and the terms of its relationship with the now 27 nation bloc.

What happens to UK citizens working in the EU?

A lot depends on the kind of deal the UK agrees with the EU after exit.If it remains within the single market, it would almost certainly retain free movement rights, allowing UK citizens to work in the EU and vice versa.

If the government opted to impose work permit restrictions, as UKIP wants, then other countries could reciprocate, meaning Britons would have to apply for visas to work.

Will I need a visa to travel to the EU?

While there could be limitations on British nationals’ ability to live and work in EU countries, it seems unlikely they would want to deter tourists. There are many countries outside the EEA that British citizens can visit for up to 90 days without needing a visa and it is possible that such arrangements could be negotiated with European countries.

What about EU nationals who want to work in the UK?

Again, it depends on whether the UK government decides to introduce a work permit system of the kind that currently applies to non-EU citizens, limiting entry to skilled workers in professions where there are shortages.

Will I still be able to use my passport?

Yes. It is a British document – there is no such thing as an EU passport, so your passport will stay the same. In theory, the government could, if it wanted, decide to change the colour, which is currently standardized for EU countries.

Some say we could still remain in the single market – but what is a single market?

The single market is seen by its advocates as the EU’s biggest achievement and one of the main reasons it was set up in the first place. Britain was a member of a free trade area in Europe before it joined what was then known as the common market. In a free trade area countries can trade with each other without paying tariffs – but it is not a single market because the member states do not have to merge their economies together.The European Union single market, which was completed in 1992, allows the free movement of goods, services, money and people within the European Union, as if it was a single country. It is possible to set up a business or take a job anywhere within it. The idea was to boost trade, create jobs and lower prices. But it requires common law-making to ensure products are made to the same technical standards and imposes other rules to ensure a “level playing field”.

Has any other member state ever left the EU?

No nation state has ever left the EU. But Greenland, one of Denmark’s overseas territories, held a referendum in 1982, after gaining a greater degree of self government, and voted by 52% to 48% to leave, which it duly did after a period of negotiation. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in the wake of the Leave result that it is “democratically unacceptable” that Scotland faces being taken out of the EU when it voted to Remain.

What does it mean for Northern Ireland?

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the impact in Northern Ireland would be “very profound” and that the whole island of Ireland should now be able to vote on reunification. But Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has ruled out the call from Sinn Féin for a border poll, saying the circumstances in which one would be called did not exist.

Will cars need new number plates?

Probably not because there’s no EU-wide law on vehicle registration or car number places, and the EU flag symbol is a voluntary identifier and not compulsory. The DVLA says there has been no discussion about what would happen to plates with the flag if the UK voted to leave.

Could MPs block an EU exit?

Could the necessary legislation pass the Commons, given that a lot of MPs – all SNP and Lib Dems, nearly all Labour and many Conservatives – were in favour of staying? The referendum result is not legally binding – Parliament still has to pass the laws that will get Britain out of the 28 nation bloc, starting with the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act. The withdrawal agreement also has to be ratified by Parliament – the House of Lords and/or the Commons could vote against ratification. In practice, Conservative MPs who voted to remain in the EU would be whipped to vote with the government. Any who defied the whip would have to face the wrath of voters at the next general election.

One scenario that could see the referendum result overturned, is if MPs forced a general election and a party campaigned on a promise to keep Britain in the EU, got elected and then claimed that the election mandate topped the referendum one.

Two-thirds of MPs would have to vote for a general election to be held before the next scheduled one in 2020.

Will the UK be able to rejoin the EU in the future?

The UK would have to start from scratch with no rebate, and enter accession talks with the EU. Every member state would have to agree to the UK re-joining. But with elections looming elsewhere in Europe, other leaders might not be generous towards any UK demands. New members are required to adopt the euro as their currency, once they meet the relevant criteria, although the UK could try to negotiate an opt-out.

Who wanted the UK to leave the EU?

The UK Independence Party, which won the last European elections, and received nearly four million votes – 13% of those cast – in May’s general election, campaigned for Britain’s exit from the EU. About half of Conservative MPs, including five cabinet ministers, several Labour MPs and the DUP were also in favour of leaving.

What were their reasons for wanting the UK to leave?

They said Britain was being held back by the EU, which they said imposed too many rules on business and charged billions of pounds a year in membership fees for little in return. They also wanted Britain to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming here to live and/or work.

One of the main principles of EU membership is “free movement”, which means you don’t need to get a visa to go and live in another EU country. The Leave campaign also objected to the idea of “ever closer union” and what they see as moves towards the creation of a “United States of Europe”.

Who wanted the UK to stay in the EU?

Prime Minister David Cameron wanted Britain to stay in the EU. He sought an agreement with other European Union leaders to change the terms of Britain’s membership.

David Cameron outside 10 Downing Street

 

He said the deal would give Britain “special” status and help sort out some of the things British people said they didn’t like about the EU, like high levels of immigration – but critics said the deal would make little difference. Sixteen members of the PM’s cabinet also backed staying in. The Conservative Party pledged to be neutral in the campaign – but the Labour Party, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems were all in favour of staying in. US president Barack Obama also wanted Britain to remain in the EU, as did other EU nations such as France and Germany.

What were their reasons for wanting the UK to stay?

Those campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU said it gets a big boost from membership – it makes selling things to other EU countries easier and, they argued, the flow of immigrants, most of whom are young and keen to work, fuels economic growth and helps pay for public services. They also said Britain’s status in the world would be damaged by leaving and that we are more secure as part of the 28 nation club, rather than going it alone.

What about Businesses?

Big business – with a few exceptions – tended to be in favour of Britain staying in the EU because it makes it easier for them to move money, people and products around the world.

Will the EU still use English?

Yes, there will still be 27 other EU states in the bloc, and others wanting to join in the future, and the common language tends to be English.

Will a Brexit harm product safety?

Probably not, is the answer. It would depend on whether or not the UK decided to get rid of current safety standards. Even if that happened any company wanting to export to the EU would have to comply with its safety rules, and it’s hard to imagine a company would want to produce two batches of the same products.

 

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