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What The Brexit Would Mean For Britain, Explained

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Photo: Getty
You may have noticed a new entry in the portmanteau dictionary. Sitting between Brangelina and brunch, we now have Brexit. Brexit's not a new celeb couple, nor is it a new mealtime (although it does sound like a breakfast biscuit endorsed by Johnny Vaughan), but a snappy, media-friendly way of referring to Britain's potential exit from the European Union.

Listen, someone had to make it sound a little less dry.
But what does the potential Brexit actually *mean* for Britain? Well, first up: put 23rd June in your diaries, because that's the day on which you will be called upon to decide whether we remain in, or leave, the EU. That's right – it's all down to you. And here's what else you should know.


Why now?

Britain joined the EU – then known as the European Economic Community (EEC) or Common Market – back in 1973. But in the years since then, some have argued that the EU's power and influence over Britain has, like Ant and Dec, gone too far.

In his manifesto before last year's election, David Cameron made a commitment to his party and the public that a referendum on Britain's EU membership would be held before the end of 2017. But why now particularly? "Cameron had a choice to wait until 2017 when people might not like him so much; when the migrant crisis could be even worse," explains Ros Taylor, editor of LSE's BrexitVote blog. Or he could go for it now when he's still relatively popular and with the hope that the Leave campaign wouldn't have had a chance to get its arguments together." And so, here we are.


Who's on which side?

This is by no means a cut and dry scenario. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party are mostly in favour of sticking with the EU, although a clutch of Labour MPs are for a Brexit. The Scottish National Party are fully behind a remain vote, while the Conservatives are more evenly split. Cameron is rooting for us to stay, but Boris Johnson is shouting loud to leave – cue lots of mud-slinging from middle-aged men.

In the case of BoJo, it's maybe worth asking how much his Brexit push is about what's good for the country, and how much it's about his own personal political gains. "People have said that Boris wants to be prime minister," says Taylor, "and I don't think he could reasonably deny that. If he comes out as 'leave', he might be able to win over the grass roots Conservatives who tend to be very opposed to the EU and count on their vote in the future. In a way, if we do leave the EU, it will be very much down to Boris Johnson."


So should we stay or go?

That's the big question, isn't it? At least, it's what we're all here for. Hugo Dixon, writer and founder of InFacts – a website making the case for Britain to remain in the EU – says there are three main reasons as to why we should want to stay: "One is prosperity – it's going to be better for jobs and for wealth. Secondly, it's good for security and influence – we're going to have a much better say in whether our neighbourhood is a safe and prosperous place if we're in rather than out. And the third reason is Scotland. It's very likely the Scottish people will vote to stay in the EU, and Nicola Sturgeon has made it very clear she will demand a second referendum if England leaves. If that happens, it will be hard to deny her that referendum."
OK, so why would we want to leave? A Brexit could, say campaigners, lead to a jobs boom and the opportunity for the UK to regain full control of its borders. "The most compelling reason for leaving is, in my book, that you take back control," says Anand Menon, professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King's College and Director of the UK in a Changing Europe Initiative. "You become self-governing again. In the EU we're subject to all sorts of stuff that is made by people that we don't really know, so if you like more control and a stronger identity, then I think that's a perfectly credible argument for leaving."

Of course, this being politics, dodgy stats and figures are being thrown around willy nilly in an attempt to get you, the voter, on side and both camps have been accused of scaremongering.

The remain camp, for example, has perhaps made more of the economic benefits of the EU than it should, suggesting that three million jobs will be lost if we leave, but failing to mention those jobs are not necessarily linked to EU membership. "There is absolutely no reason why the British economy shouldn't do well outside of the EU," says Menon.

Meanwhile, the leave campaigners are prone to exaggerating our contributions to the EU. According to Boris and co, Britain gives £350 million a week (or £55 million a day) to Brussels, something that the remain camp says is grossly inaccurate and which "ignores the rebate that Thatcher received whilst she was PM," says Dixon.

Then there's Iain Duncan Smith's line that staying in Europe would open us up to Paris-style terrorist attacks, which has been dismissed as "deranged and categorically wrong" by both Tory and Labour supporters of the remain campaign.

But what will actually happen if we leave?

Well, the thing is, nobody really knows. Not for sure, anyway. No state has ever withdrawn from the EU, so it's very difficult for anyone to accurately predict what would happen if we left.

"I think anyone that says with any degree of certainty that if we leave it will be like A, B or C is being dishonest. We can't know," says Menon.

"If we do leave then something called Article 50 of the EU treaty will be triggered," says Taylor, "which will mean we have to start negotiating our position with all the other EU countries, things like trade, whether migrants can come here to work, where we can live. It could take years to actually leave."

That means the questions surrounding things like migration; whether you can still live in Berlin, the cost of Camembert, the impact on jobs, the price of your holiday to the Costa del Sol do not, unfortunately, have any definite answers.


So how should I make a decision?

Even if you've done your homework, the ideas and issues surrounding Europe are complex and not always easy to grasp, which doesn't help when you're trying to make an informed decision about your potential future. "We've had years and years of not really thinking that much about Europe and not having it explained in a way that's accessible," says Taylor. "Suddenly trying to get to grips with not only the way Europe works (which is very unfamiliar), but with all the issues that are going on, can lead to a lot of uncertainty."

So what should we be asking ourselves? "First of all ask yourself what differences has the EU made to my life? To your job, to where you live," says Taylor. "But it's not just about you as an individual –you have to think about wider questions and that's where it gets difficult because people are presenting and quibbling over stats. It's easy to get caught up in all that stuff about how many jobs depend on the EU, how much trade do we do in the EU and the answer is – nobody really knows."

What, you thought we would just tell you? Sorry, you have to make the decision yourself.


What will happen on referendum day?

As long as you're on the electoral roll, you can vote. And voting day's always fun, right? There's nothing like the feeling of exercising your civil liberties on a sunny summer's day. And listen, if you're going to be at Glastonbury, do everyone a favour and get a postal vote.




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