12 things you need to know before voting in the referendum

We asked the folks at Full Fact for some objective analysis of some key referendum issues - don’t touch that ballot paper before you read this

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1. Your starter for one - what are the best arguments on both sides?

Catherine Barnard:The strongest case for Remain concerns the economy and the bigger picture (working cooperatively, the future). The strongest case for Leave concerns control (parliamentary sovereignty) and independence.


2. How will the result impact my household finances?

Angus Armstrong: Let me try and summarise the consensus economic views from the main economic bodies (OECD, IMF, IFS, CEP, NIESR for example). Brexit will probably lead to lower household incomes. In the short run (next 3 to 4 years) this is likely to be between 1 and 3%. Over the longer term, this is likely to be between 2 and 8% - depending on which forecast you believe. In the short term, unemployment is likely to be higher. Each 1% drop in GDP is worth about £19bn or £720 for each UK household. Note, that these estimates are after taking account of the saving of our net contribution to the EU budget. I should add that in the short term the uncertainty about how we would actually withdraw might complicate the economic outlook. There is one forecast which shows the UK would be better off by an interest group called 'Economists for Brexit'.


3. I’m disabled and I work - if we vote to leave, will I be less protected tomorrow than I am today?

CB: In a nutshell, a lot of key employment rights - eg protection against unfair dismissal, redundancy - are governed by UK law, not EU law, so if we voted to leave they would not be affected. Other rights, eg restrictions on the working week, paid holiday, come from EU law. We don't know what will happen if there is a vote to Leave. If the UK becomes a member of the EEA (as with Norway) we shall still be bound by EU rules on workers' rights. Any of the other scenarios would mean that the UK government could repeal employment rights coming from the EU.


4. Will a Leave vote mean an end to pesky EU regs?


Anand Menon: Well, I'm sorry to do this but the answer starts with 'it depends'. EU law will continue to affect us if there is a vote to leave. If we decide to join the EEA we shall have access to the single market but will be bound by the rules the EU adopts but without having a say in their adoption. If we do not join the EEA we shall continue to trade with the EU, possibly subject to tariffs (customs duties), and our manufacturers shall have to abide by eg EU rules on product standards, before they can sell their goods on the EU market (in the same way that US and Chinese manufacturers do).


5. What’s this about a European army?

AM: The European Union does enable member states to cooperate on military affairs, and has even run some rather small military missions. If we remain, this will continue and we may participate - it was Tony Blair, after all, who launched the EU's military policies. BUT, the EU can only act if all the member states agree, and no member state can be forced to actually contribute troops against its will (the EU doesn't have any military equipment of its own so has to use stuff the member states are willing to let it use). For fans of this military cooperation, it is a way for member states to do more together than they could acting alone, and is a way of strengthening the European contribution to NATO. For opponents it is a dangerous intrusion into the sovereign rights of states, and might undermine NATO.


6. Immigration has become the referendum’s touchpaper issue - does it deserve the weight given to it?

AM: All the evidence suggests that overall migration is good for the economy. But it is also true that some areas struggle under the weight of high levels of migration and then there is pressure there on services such as hospitals and schools. The question is whether you think the best way to deal with this is to try to stop the migration or invest more in services. Over half the migration to the UK is from outside the EU and we could control that now.

CB: As to why immigration is such a contentious and central subject, there are many reasons but one of them is that the enlargement of the EU to the East in 2004 and the subsequent migration began to coincide with the austerity cuts imposed following the financial crisis. For example, local government funding from Central Government has been cut by about 37% since 2010 and this inevitably has an impact on the provision of public services which are under such strain.


7. If we leave, what will happen to Brits living the life of Riley on the Costas in the EU?


CB: The position of UK residents will mainly depend on the outcome of the 'Article 50 negotiations' (the process by which the UK will probably use to leave the EU). For those who have been in, say, France, for over five years they are likely to be considered long-term residents and will enjoy some rights under EU law. But this won't happen overnight. The Article 50 negotiations will take at least two years and probably longer.


8. What about my friend Sofia, an EU migrant who’s already here in the UK?

AM: The Leave side have said that those already here will be fine, and it will be a question of what policies we adopt towards future migrants. One interesting question will be what happens, for instance, to people from the EU who have worked here for a while, returned home, and want to come back.


9. I need to know how bad things might get - can you give the best and worst case scenario for each side?

AA: Let me do remain first:

Best thing would be a clear vote to remain and UK taking a true leadership role in reforming the EU (and especially Eurozone problems - this is a real tall order as the problems are very deep). Worst thing is a very narrow vote to remain and political and constitutional crisis.

If we leave:

Best thing would be that we retain the four fundamental freedoms and so have access to the Single Market and try to position the UK as a conduit for business between the US, Europe and Asia. The worst thing would be unilateral changes in legislation before the withdrawal agreement (maybe 2-3 years away) as this could contradict international law and sour the negotiations.


10. Isn’t this all based on speculation? Surely no-one can predict the future if we leave - or what the EU will become if we stay?

AM: It is absolutely true that there are no facts about the future. But I would differentiate between guesswork and informed speculation. So, there are people who understand how the EU negotiates with non-member states and have interesting insights on what might happen - though obviously Britain is different to Norway, so we can't be certain history will be a guide. And you're quite right, the EU is changing and will probably continue to change. So one question that should concern us is whether the countries in the Euro will try to integrate further by, for instance, creating a new parliament for themselves or creating an EU budget. If they do, this will almost certainly have implications for states that are in the EU but not in the euro.


11. Argh - if Britain leaves the EU, I want to leave Britain! Can I?


CB: EU law (and thus the almost unrestricted right to travel) will continue to apply until an agreement is reached that it will no longer apply. Most people expect that this will be at the end of the so-called 'Article 50 process' which will take a minimum of two years and most people expect will take longer. If, in addition, the UK agrees to become a member of the EEA (as with Norway), free movement rights will be preserved and so you can continue to enjoy rights of free movement. However, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have said that we shall not join the EEA.

12. Please - tell me I will never have to face another referendum again?

CB: The answer is that no-one knows, but given we have now had two referenda on the EU (1975, 2016), there is every chance there may be another one.


Angus Armstrong is Director of Macroeconomics at the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and a Visiting Professor at Imperial College London.

Catherine Barnard is Professor in European Union Law and Employment Law at the University of Cambridge. 

Anand Menon is Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at Kings College London.

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Last updated: 5 months ago