UK gets June referendum on EU

UK gets June referendum on EU

Horseguards Parade near Downing Street. Source: Wikimedia

The UK will hold a referendum on whether to leave the European Union on Thursday, June 23, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.

As expected, he will campaign to remain in the EU and described the vote as one of the biggest decisions “in our lifetimes”. His ministers divided between the two camps. The announcement of the referendum date comes after renegotiations in Brussels over the UK’s relationship with the bloc.

The agreement includes changes to migrant welfare payments, safeguards for Britain’s financial-services sector and the ability to opt out of unwanted EU regulations. Both US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have urged Britain to stay and the opposition Labour Party, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems are in favour of staying in.

But Cameron’s ally, Justice Secretary Michael Gove, joined the already-divided “out” side. Eurosceptic London Mayor Boris Johnson has yet to declare where he stands. The electorate appears to be fairly evenly split, polls suggest. It will fall in the middle of the Euro 2016 football championship, which will be irrelevant to Scottish voters.

Cameron is risking his party’s unity with the referendum. Cabinet ministers like Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Gove immediately declared for the leave campaign. Cameron warned that an exit would be a “leap in the dark”. “The choice is in your hands but my recommendation is clear. I believe that Britain will be safer, stronger and better off by remaining in a reformed European Union,” he said. Home Secretary Theresa May said “for reasons of security, protection against crime and terrorism, trade with Europe, and access to markets around the world” it was necessary to remain in.

On the “out” side, fellow Conservative Gove said: “Our country would be freer, fairer and better off outside the EU … Far from providing security in an uncertain world, the EU’s policies have become a source of instability and insecurity.” Commons leader Chris Grayling said: “I actually believe the EU is holding this country back. We cannot control our borders, limit the number of people who come here do trade deals.

“I do not believe we can take decisions in the national interest when we are part of the European Union.” Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Employment Minister Priti Patel have all joined him.

Multinationals such as BP and GlaxoSmithKline have warned that Britain’s US$2.9 trillion economy would face uncertainty if it left the EU, while Goldman Sachs said sterling could fall in value by as much as a fifth.

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