Britain-EU guide for dummies as MPs propose exit

The European Union flag fly amongst European Union member countries' national flags in front of the European Parliament. Credit: Getty Images
The European Union flag fly amongst European Union member countries’ national flags in front of the European Parliament.
Credit: Getty Images

What’s happening?

A number of Conservative (Tory) members of Parliament have submitted a bill proposing a referendum on the UK’s EU membership before the end of 2017.

Has Parliament approved the bill?

No. It was defeated by 277 to 130 this week, as almost all Labour and the Liberal Democrat MPs voted against it.

Why is the bill such a big deal, then?

Because 114 Conservative MPs voted against their own party leadership. And, even though it was defeated, the bill has to be debated in Parliament. The debate is bound to show the huge rift among Britain’s elite – and its voters – regarding EU membership. In other words: the bill shows the opposition to the EU in Britain. The government failed to include any mention of an EU referendum in last week’s Queen’s Speech. Now parliamentarians are getting back at the government with their own bill for a referendum.

What happens next?

A parliamentary debate. After that, the government technically doesn’t have to do anything. But, with pressure building in favor of an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU, Prime Minister now says he supports such a vote.

If the referendum happens, what will Britons vote on?

It will be a straight in-out question: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?”

Will the referendum happen?

It seems very likely. The Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives’ coalition partner, want to remain in the EU, but their voice is weakened due to the recent electoral success of the eurosceptic UKIP party.

How are other EU countries reacting?

Germany is likely to sweeten Britain’s EU deal, making it more palatable for Britain to stay.

Will Britons vote to leave the EU?

Probably not. According to the most recent poll, 40% of Britons would vote to remain in the EU – but a sizeable minority of 34% would vote to leave.

Timeline:

1963: Britain tries to join the European Common Market but is vetoed by French President Charles de Gaulle.

1973: Britain joins the European Economic Community.

1975: Referendum on EEC membership: voters decide Britain should stay in.

1984: Britain wins a “rebate”, which means it gets a huge chunk of its annual EU contributions back.


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