The European Union referendum campaign has officially started. In 70 days, on 23 June, Britain will vote whether to remain or leave the EU. It will be the first time since 1975 that voters will have a say on the country's relationship with Europe. Back then, Britons voted by 67% to 33% in favour of staying in the Common Market, as it was then called.
With just over two months to go, here's what we know so far.
1. The question is quite straightforward.
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
2. These are the people who get to vote.
If you fall into one of these categories, you can have a say:
- British, Irish, and qualifying Commonwealth citizens over the age of 18 who are resident in the UK.
- UK nationals resident overseas, provided they appeared on the register of parliamentary electors in the past 15 years. If they were too young to register when they left the UK, their parent or guardian must have been registered.
- An Irish citizen living overseas who was born in Northern Ireland and who has been registered to vote in Northern Ireland in the last 15 years.
EU nationals and people under the age of 18 will not be able to vote.
Eligible people can register to vote (online here) by midnight on Tuesday 7 June if they have not already done so.
3. The official campaigns have been announced.
Earlier this week, the Electoral Commission announced the official campaign groups.
On the Leave side, Tory-backed Vote Leave won (only just) over UKIP-backed Grassroots Out. On the other side, the decision was much more straightforward. Like a North Korea election, there was only one contender in it, and Britain Stronger in Europe was duly named the official Remain campaign.
These are the perks that come with the official designation:
4. But others will be campaigning too.
The two official campaigns won't be alone in making the respective cases. The government’s official position is for remaining in the EU – and leaflets explaining why have been mailed to every household. But the Conservative party is split on the issue, with several prominent members of Cameron’s cabinet backing Brexit. Meanwhile, most of the Labour party supports staying in, even though party leader Jeremy Corbyn says there is a lot he wants to change about the EU.
UKIP wants Britain to leave the EU, and says it has £4 million to spend on the campaign despite its preferred group losing the designation battle. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Lib Dems want to remain; so do the Greens, although prominent party voice and London Assembly member Dame Jenny Jones will vote to leave.
Most analysts agree that the UK’s future outside the EU would be uncertain in the immediate term at least, but after that, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .
5. Nobody remembers Cameron's EU renegotiation.
David Cameron returned from Brussels in February with an agreement to reform Britain’s terms in the EU. The contents of the deal were hotly trailed and debated. However, the terms of the agreement – a seven-year emergency brake to restrict newly arrived migrants' in-work benefits for four years, curbs on child benefits sent abroad, protection for the City of London from an “ever closer Union” – all seem a distant memory. Nobody is talking about the prime minister’s deal any more.
The Remain campaign argues that Britain is stronger, safer, and better off in Europe, while its opponents say the UK must leave to take back control (of immigration and sovereignty, mostly). Both sides are parading an expected medley of letters signed by experts, and mixed dosages of fear and hope.
6. The polls paint a confusing picture.
Telephone polling points to a narrowing, yet solid, Remain lead. Online polls suggest a much closer contest, with several even giving Leave a slight edge. Most pollsters think the former has the advantage, but they all agree a lot can still happen in the remaining two months.
The country’s top opinion researchers hint that voter turnout could prove to be the decisive factor come election day, with low turnout a concern for the Remain camp, especially among young people, who tend to be more pro-EU but less likely to vote. It is not a surprise that the campaigns are doing all they can to engage their key demographics.
7. The final result will be announced in Manchester.
Polling stations open at 7am on 23 June and close at 10pm.
Once voting ends, the count begins. Ballots will be counted at 382 local centres across the UK. First, local results will be declared at each centre once a count is completed. Local results will then be collated at 12 regional centres, which will also declare the totals for each side. Finally, the overall nationwide result will be declared at Manchester Town Hall; probably the following day.
Alberto Nardelli is Europe editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alberto Nardelli at email@example.com.
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