On Thursday 23rd June 2016, the UK will decide whether or not to remain in the European Union, and oh boy is this a big deal. This blog is designed to be accessible, to clear up some common misconceptions about the EU and to explain the methods of voting. You shouldn’t need any background in European politics to understand this. I am a firm fan of the EU and fully encourage you all to vote, and to vote to stay in.
What is the EU and why is the referendum important?
The EU is a partnership of 28 countries which initially began with the aim of encouraging peace and economic cooperation between European countries, after the devastating effects of World War Two. The two aspects of it most often talked about are the free movement of goods and people. That means that if I, as a Brit, wanted to move to and work in Spain (another member state), then I could do so without a visa. Similarly, if I, as a Spaniard, wanted to come and work, whatever my trade may be, in the UK, I could.
If we vote to leave the EU, this is going to have a huge impact on the way our country operates internally, and relates to other countries externally. It will according to most businesses and economists have a significant impact on our economy. Some companies and banks have been conducting studies on whether they ought to relocate their headquarters if the UK votes to leave. Campaigners that wish the UK to remain in the EU also note that the flow of immigrants fuels economic growth, and that we have a much more powerful voice on the world stage, through virtue of our membership. (As with all controversial topics of course there is the other side of the argument, which states otherwise.)
It is important not to confuse the European Union (EU) with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). These are separate institutions and we would still be subject to the Strasbourg based ECHR, even if we left the Brussels based EU. David Cameron has recently renegotiated some of Britain’s terms with the EU, which ought to ease some more conservative concerns on where our money is going. Whatever one’s opinion of David Cameron, this is not a decision to take based on party lines. This is why our Members of Parliament (MPs) are allowed to advocate for whichever side they choose, and hence one can see ‘conflict’ in the governemental cabinet.
How to vote:
There are a number of methods for how to vote, but the question you will be asked to answer is this: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
You can vote if you are over 18 and registered to vote in the UK (if you are unsure – check it out here: http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/upcoming-elections-and-referendums/eu-referendum). If you voted in the recent elections, then you should be registered to vote now. If you are unsure, check it out. Trust me it takes seconds and is super easy – http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/.
There are three methods of voting. Firstly, at a polling station – again super easy. Turn up at any time between 7am and 10pm with the card you received in the post and put an X in the box. Bob’s your uncle. If you know you are going to be busy that day, you can always vote by post. This requires you to complete a form in advance so make sure you get ahead on this. Or, there is always voting by proxy. This is what I am planning to do as I am studying abroad in California this year. I am asking a person I trust who is also registered to vote (my Mum) to vote on my behalf. This also requires a little forethought because it requires me to submit a form in advance.
Make sure you know which method you are going to pick, especially if you may be abroad on the day.Whichever method you go for, it should be easypeasy. Once you are registered, you’re good to go, and unlike in the general election, every vote counts. It is a straight up tally of “in” versus “out” and so it doesn’t matter what the politics is like in the area you live in. Your whole constituency can be comprised of UKIP supporters or Greens; your vote still matters.
Whilst this blog is relevant to all Brits (and even non-Brits), I encourage my fellow Sussex students in particular to uphold the politically active roots of our university, and to do what you think is best when the time comes in June.
There is a mass of really helpful information on the web, but these may give you a start if you want to read some more:
Alice Lomas is a third year Law with American Studies student and is currently in the USA on the Study Abroad programme at the University of California, Santa Barbara.