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Referendum on EU membership set for 23rd June

Following marathon talks in Brussels last night, British Prime Minister David Cameron, announced that a deal had been struck on reforms. The timetable would now see a Cabinet meeting held the following day, the first on a saturday since the Falklands War, to put forward a government recommendation.

The Deal

The Prime Minister has been negotiating with other member states and the European Council for around nine months on a package of reforms.

The agreement, which will take effect immediately if the UK votes to remain in the EU, includes the following changes:

  • Child benefit – Child benefit payments to migrant workers for children living overseas to be recalculated to reflect the cost of living in their home countries
  • Migrant welfare payments – The UK can decide to limit in-work benefits for EU migrants during their first four years in the UK. This so-called “emergency brake” can be applied in the event of “exceptional” levels of migration, but must be released within seven years – without exception
  • Eurozone – Britain can keep the pound while being in Europe, and its business trade with the bloc, without fear of discrimination. Any British money spent on bailing out eurozone nations will be reimbursed.
  • Protection for the City of London – Safeguards for Britain’s large financial services industry to prevent eurozone regulations being imposed on it
  • Sovereignty – There is an explicit commitment that the UK will not be part of an “ever closer union” with other EU member states. This will be incorporated in an EU treaty change.
  • ‘Red card’ for national parliaments – It will be easier for governments to band together to block unwanted legislation. If 55% of national EU parliaments object to a piece of EU legislation it may be rethought.
  • Competitiveness – The settlement calls on all EU institutions and member states to “make all efforts to fully implement and strengthen the internal market” and to take “concrete steps towards better regulation”, including by cutting red tape.
  • Some limits on free movement – Denying automatic free movement rights to nationals of a country outside the EU who marry an EU national, as part of measures to tackle “sham” marriages. There are also new powers to exclude people believed to be a security risk – even if they have no previous convictions.

What differences are there in the final deal?

Mr Cameron said that it was a package of reforms that meant he was now satisfied to recommend to the British people that the country stays in the EU. However there were some differences to previous speeches and crucially the pledges in the Conservative Party manifesto at the 2015 General Election.

The original pledge for a complete ban on migrants sending child benefit abroad was forced into a compromise after some eastern European states rejected that and also insisted that existing claimants should continue to receive the full payment.

On how long the UK would be able curb in-work benefits for new arrivals, Mr Cameron had to give way on hopes of it being in place for 13 years, settling for seven instead.

On financial regulation, a change was made in response to reaction from the French “to ensure the level-playing field within the internal market”. They feared the UK was getting a competitive advantage.

The ‘red card’ although still in the deal is seen by critics as an empty gesture due to the hoops that would need to be jumped through to ever activate it.

What did the Labour Party say?

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, has described the negotiations as a “sideshow” who’s entire purpose was to satisfy members of the Prime Minister’s own party rather than address the important issues affecting the country. He added that he believed the EU brought “investment, jobs and protection for British workers and consumers.”

Offically the Labour Party, will support remaining in the EU, although like the Conservatives there are Members of Parliament who will join Brexit campaigners.

The Prime Minister’s Announcement

Following the emergency session of Cabinet Mr Cameron spoke outside No.10 Downing Street to the gathering press. He said the Cabinet had agreed with him to recomend remaining in the EU. He said the UK would also be stronger in the EU because it can make “big decisions” on trade and security from “within.” Watch his speech below.

The Cabinet – who’s In and who’s for Brexit

Despite having a Cabinet position recommending to remain in the EU, Mr Cameron had announced some weeks ago that the principle of Cabinet collective responsibility, whereby you honour the decision made publicly or resign your post, would be lifted. After much speculation five Cabinet members, plus a Minister who attends Cabinet, have made the decision to join the Brexit campaign. These are:

  • Michael Gove – Justice Secretary
  • Chris Grayling – Leader of the Commons
  • Theresa Villiers – Northern Ireland Secretary
  • Iain Duncan Smith – Work and Pensions Secretary (at the time)
  • John Whittingdale – Culture Secretary
  • Priti Patel – Employment Minister (who attends Cabinet)

Many other Conservative Ministers, such as Andrea Leadsom, or Members of Parliament have also now declared that they will be backing Brexit having waiting for the Brussels negotiations to conclude.

Key members of Cabinet who are campaigning to remain in the EU, some to much surprise, are:

  • Chancellor George Osborne
  • Home Secretary Theresa May
  • Business Secretary Sajid Javid
  • Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb
  • International Development Secretary Justine Greening
  • Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt
  • Communities and Local Government Secretary Greg Clark
  • Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin
  • Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss

The Vote

Despite protests from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about the date being too close to their national elections being held in May, the date of the referendum will be Thursday 23 June 2016. The Electoral Commission will now designate an official leave campaign as there are several competing at the same time.

The Question

The question that will be put to the people on 23 June is very straight forward. “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”