Your opinion at the start - stage 1/6


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The UK is developing its negotiating position on our future relationship with the European Union; what kind of relationship do you want?

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Research and writing: Paul Eustice; editing: Perry Walker

Drag these using the arrow symbol () so that they are in order, most preferred at the top

  • Leave the EU but minimise the effect by retaining freedom of movement, goods, services and capital.
  • Do not leave - the referendum is only advisory and should be rejected by Parliament.
  • Cancel all agreements with the EU. Trade with it as an outsider; no budget contribution and our own immigration policy.
  • Leave, but accept some EU immigration, budget contribution and regulation to retain low trade tariffs.

Members of the European Union accept certain obligations and duties in return for certain rights. The Four Freedoms of the EU are, put simply and with some minor exceptions, the right to exercise free movement of goods, capital, services, and people. As members we can travel, work, live, set up business and trade within the EU and other EU citizens can do the same here. (1)

Opinions differ on whether membership works to our advantage and whether the price of those freedoms is worth paying.

On 23rd June 2016, the referendum on leaving the EU offered a simple choice - stay or leave. The question was:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

with the options:

Remain a member of the European Union


Leave the European Union

On a turnout of 72.2%, 51.9% voted to leave and 48.1% voted to stay, with 0.08% votes spoiled or invalid. (2)

There were significant differences in majority opinion by region and, after the result was declared, there were objections that claims used to support either side in the campaign had been inaccurate or misleading. (18). There have been movements to try to overturn the result, often arguing that those who voted to leave were misled or simply did not realise what they were really voting for. Those defending the result argue that a democratic vote has to be binding and you cannot dismiss it just because your side loses. It seems very unlikely at the moment that the decision will be reversed.

The next stage in the process of leaving is formally to trigger Article 50, the mechanism which allows a country to leave the EU. (3)Thus, the current debate is about just how the process should be managed, and who should have what kind of input to the negotiations as we work out what ‘leave’ really means.

The Prime Minister, who officially supported the Remain camp before, now argues that “Brexit Means Brexit” so we have to leave and, very importantly, that the task of doing so is a matter for her and her cabinet. Some MPs have objected that they should have more input to the process. A legal challenge by a private citizen established that the PM cannot make a new relationship on behalf of the UK without consulting Parliament. (4)

It seems likely that a majority in Parliament would accept the general principle of ‘leaving’ in some way, but would wish to have a final say on the terms of any new relationship. MPs need to know what their constituents think so if enough people from one constituency express an opinion here, Open Up UK will pass on the results.You can declare your postcode for that purpose at the end.

Opinions differ on how much room we have to negotiate. Some look forward to a relationship where we will not be bound by any EU rules but to gain that freedom we will have to give up members’ rights and privileges. So, for example, we could restrict immigration from the EU and abolish any rules we dislike, but could not at the same time gain access to the EU markets without customs duties, or travel and work there freely.

Others argue that they need us as much as we need them so a deal of some sort is inevitable, giving us some privileged or tariff-free access to the European market and thus preserving jobs. A compromise might be obtainable but, equally, it may be that other member states will simply refuse to negotiate any special relationship.

Debate in Parliament and government requires some guiding principles, and knowledge of what compromises, if any, the majority of citizens would prefer or accept in the new, more complicated context.If we are trading off rights and privileges against each other, what priorities and principles should apply?

A brief glossary of terms (sources include 5, 6 and 7)

The European Union (EU) currently consists of 28 countries, 508 million people and a combined economy almost as large as the US.

The European Parliament is directly elected by the citizens of the EU member countries. It has 751 Members at present, voted in every five years by proportional representation. 73 of them are from the UK. 23% of the British people claim they have never heard of it and in 2014 only 35.6% bothered to vote for an MEP (compared to 66.1% for the UK election 2015).

The Council of the European Union is the other half of the law-making machinery. One Minister from each Member State meets to debate, amend and adopt laws. It meets in Brussels and Luxembourg.

The European Council is made up of the Heads of State or Government and the President of the European Commission. It sets the overall agenda for EU policies and is responsible for revising and creating the Treaties on which the whole of the EU is based. It meets in Brussels four times a year.

(Not to be confused with The Council of Europe, which is not part of the EU. That exists to promote cultural diversity, democratisation and human rights and is based in Strasbourg.)

The European Commission is responsible for proposing legislation, spending the lion's share of the budget and overseeing approved legislation, programmes and expenditure.It has 28 Commissioners (one from each country) appointed for a five-year term and they are “duty-bound to act on behalf of the whole EU and not for any national government or interest group”. It is based in Brussels.

The Court of Justice of the European Union makes sure countries comply with EU law and settles disputes over how EU treaties and legislation are interpreted. It is based in Luxembourg. (5)

‘Leaving the EU’ means leaving the European Parliament, The Council of the European Union, The European Council and The European Commission, having no say in them. We might still be affected by their decisions indirectly, depending on what arrangement we come to when we leave.

The 28 member states of the EU form the Single Market, based on the free movement of capital, goods, services and labour. The aim is to make it as easy for these to move between states as it is within states. Gaining tariff free or privileged access to trade with the EU countries is not the same as being a member of the Single Market, accepting the ‘four freedoms’.

The European Economic Area (EEA) includes EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It allows these three countries to participate in the single market without being members of the EU. They still need to accept most legislation controlling the single market but are exempt from others, such as the Common Agricultural Policy.

When Britain leaves the EU it will not automatically be separated from the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. The court was set up by the Council of Europe, which is entirely separate from the EU.The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights would cease to apply and the EU court of Justice would cease to have any jurisdiction, but we would have to make a quite separate decision to ignore the rulings of the court at Strasbourg.

The Human Rights Act is a UK Law passed in 1998 that incorporatedthe rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (15)“The UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not automatically affect the UK’s status as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.” (28) It would be possible to withdraw in a separate process, but “any decision to withdraw from the Convention ... is likely to have a significant negative impact on the UK standing in Europe, the United Nations and the county’s moral authority around the world.” (8) On the other hand “The Government has proposed to consult on repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a Bill of Rights. There is not currently an official, formal proposal from the Government to leave the ECHR, but several members of the Cabinet have argued for this.” (9). This includes the PM. (10)