Reading: Getting close to the EU referendum

Reading: the EU referendum
Intermediate to lower advanced level (B1-C1)

On 23 June this year, a referendum will take place in the UK. The question to be voted on is: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

This week, I have noticed leaflets from different political organisations starting to come through my letter box as the campaigns on both sides start to get more intense. Of course, like most elections, many people have already made up their minds but there could be a large number who are still undecided.

As well as British citizens, it might surprise you to learn that Irish and Commonwealth citizens who are residents in the UK will be entitled to vote. This includes UK residents from Cyprus and Malta.

At the moment, most of the discussion in the media seems to be about the economic consequences of Brexit (the UK leaving). One of the problems is that no-one knows for sure what Brexit would mean. Although Algeria and Greenland did leave, the circumstances and impact of their leaving are totally different from Brexit. Some large companies have been writing to their employees urging them to vote for Britain to remain in the EU as an exit would, so they claim, negatively affect business. On the other side, much is made of how much Britain pays into the EU and what that money could be spent on if it left. Currently, the UK pays about £10 billion per year into the EU.

However, I suspect that if you stopped people in the street and asked them how they felt about Britain staying in the EU, their answers would depend, to a large degree, on their age,financial situation and location. Older people often look back to when Britain joined the European Economic Community (in 1973) and struggle to find obvious advantages but can be quick to point out the yearly cost of membership and the issue of immigration. Of course, retired UK citizens in Spain may well be very concerned about a possible Brexit. On the whole, younger people appear to have a more positive attitude towards the EU. This is probably because they are used to travelling or working without the need of visas, were not around when things were different, and are less nationalistic than their elders.

Less talked about but possibly more important for many people is the issue of sovereignty and democracy. Even among supporters of the EU, you hear concerns that Britain has lost too much control over its laws and that the EU is thoroughly undemocratic, being run by appointed technocrats. For many people this feels more important than a potential dip in economic prosperity.

The most likely outcome is that Britain will vote to remain in the EU (the government’s position) but there is a real chance that Brexit will happen. If it does, it will be a shock for everyone as it will be a leap into the unknown! Personally, the EU referendum will probably be the most important vote I ever take part in.