How does the voter decide on Britain's continued membership of the European Union on June 23rd 2016? E RADAR's Will Roebuck looks at the arguments for and against 'Brexit'
The European Union (EU) is an economic and political partnership involving 28 countries. The Union began after World War II to foster economic co-operation. The original idea was that countries which trade together are less likely to go to war with each other. Since then the EU has grown into a 'single market' allowing goods, services and people to move around easily. The EU has its own currency - the euro, used by 19 of the member countries, its own parliament, and now sets rules on a range of policy areas. These include environment, transport, consumer rights, and even on issues such as anti-trust, mobile phone charges and cross border trade.
Voters will have their opportunity to decide whether Britain remains in the EU, or leaves the EU on Referendum Day - 23rd June 2016. Social media and the Press have dubbed this Referendum 'brexit'.
The crucial questioned posed by the UK's Electoral Commission and which our Members of Parliament have accepted is:
SHOULD THE UNITED KINGDOM REMAIN A MEMBER OF THE EUROPEAN UNION OR LEAVE THE EUROPEAN UNION?
Brexit - who can vote?
British, Northern Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 years old who are resident in the UK are eligible to vote, along with UK nationals living abroad who have been on the UK electoral register for 15 years. Members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will also be eligible to vote, unlike in a general election. Citizens from EU countries - apart from Ireland, Malta and Cyprus will not get a vote.
Britain had a referendum in 1975 shortly after it had joined the EU - or the Common Market as it was then called. Voters decided to stay in Europe at that time, but the public and politicians have increasingly called for another referendum recently. They argue that the EU has changed dramatically over the past 40 years, with many new member countries and the organisation extending its control over more aspects of our daily lives.
Who Wants What?
There are now two official groups leading the campaigns. Several high-profile leaders are involved in both sides of the debate on whether to stay in, or leave.
Britain Stronger In Europe is the main cross-party group campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU. The group is led by the former Marks and Spencer chairman Lord Stuart Rose. He is backed by several leading politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, most Opposition MPs, including Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Alan Johnson. He is running the Labour In For Britain campaign. The Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Alliance party and the SDLP in Northern Ireland, plus the Green Party all support Britain's continued membership of the EU. So do many trade associations concerned about workers' rights.
The Vote Leave campaign is also a cross-party campaign. It has the backing of Conservative politicians such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. Plus a handful of Labour MPs including Gisela Stuart and Graham Stringer. Vote Leave also has a string of affiliated groups, for example Farmers For Britain, Muslins For Britain and Out and Proud.
Why should you vote?
The proposed Referendum goes right to the heart of British sovereignty, how we trade with Europe (and the world), and our personal rights and freedoms. This includes those migrants who might want to come to Britain to live and work. The result will affect everyone in the UK, including our children and grandchildren.
Is the EU a good thing?
Some argue that the EU has stopped countries from fighting each other for over 60 years. EU laws prevent discrimination, funds social projects in research, education and training, gives us cheaper flights plus healthcare in EU countries.
Others argue that money we pay to the European Union for Britain's membership could be invested in hospitals and schools. Border controls could make sure that the brightest and best are welcomed in.
The cost of membership and loss of political control. The threat of millions of migrants from new member countries such as Turkey and Macedonia if they are allowed to join the EU family.
Damage to British business and Sterling values. Pension pots could also be at risk. 3 to 4 million UK jobs are linked to EU trade.
Voters will go to the polls on June 23rd 2016. The referendum result is not legally binding since Parliament will still have to pass a domestic law to take Britain out of the EU. This will start with the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act.
MPs could block an EU exit. But, this would be seen as political suicide to go against the will of the people in a referendum. Both Chambers of Parliament - the House of Commons and House of Lords - are required to ratify the legislation. A 'no' decision might also have dramatic consequences for the continued premiership of Britain's PM David Cameron.
If only we knew what HM The Queen was thinking...