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?
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
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)