EU Referendum

UK and the EU: Better off out or in?

Britain goes to the polls on Thursday 23 June to decide whether the UK should stay a member of the European Union. Use this guide to find out the arguments from the Leave and Remain sides on a range of key topics.

Consumer affairs

This issue covers pricing, safety testing and ensuring customers are treated fairly.

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • The EU legislates on consumer protection issues and regulates on trading standards
  • The stated aims of the single market are to stimulate competition and trade, improve efficiency, raise quality, and cut prices
  • Campaigners disagree about the overall effect on household costs

Leave

  • EU red tape makes goods and services more expensive
  • The recent row over the “tampon tax” shows the EU has too much power, Britain should be able to set VAT rates itself
  • Consumer protection laws existed before the EU and would remain after Britain left

Remain

  • People in Britain save an average of £450 a year because prices are lower as a result of EU membership
  • Flights and mobile phone charges are among the goods and services that are cheaper
  • The EU ensures that imported goods meet European quality standards

Cost of membership

This issue looks at the costs of membership and what the UK receives from the EU.

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • The UK is a net contributor to the EU budget
  • The gross contribution in 2015 was £17.8bn but the UK rebate was worth £4.9bn
  • £4.4bn was also paid back to the UK government for farm subsidies and other programmes

Leave

  • The gross cost works out at £350m a week
  • If the UK left, billions of pounds would become available for other priorities
  • The UK would also be able to decide how to spend the money that the EU transfers back to it

Remain

  • Economic benefits of EU membership easily outweigh the cost
  • Other countries contribute more per person than the UK does
  • After Brexit, the UK would still have to contribute to the EU budget to retain access to the single market

Education and research

How education and scientific, technical and medical research relate to membership.

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • National governments are responsible for education but the EU promotes co-operation between member states
  • The EU plans to spend €80bn on research between 2014 and 2020 under the Horizon 2020 programme

Leave

  • Only 3% of total R&D spending in Britain is funded by the EU
  • The UK will be able to increase funding to science out of savings from not paying for EU membership
  • Britain could set its own immigration policy which could fast track scientists and graduates

Remain

  • UK universities receive millions in research funding from the EU
  • Many of the UK's top scientists come from elsewhere in Europe with the help of EU grants
  • The Erasmus programme allows British students to study abroad

Energy and environment

This issue covers energy availability and environmental protections.

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • The EU is in the process of developing an integrated energy market
  • There are several EU-wide policies to tackle climate change including the Emissions Trading Scheme
  • It also legislates on issues such as water quality and air pollution

Leave

  • EU environmental regulation can be an unnecessary burden on business and push up energy prices
  • Other European countries would still want to sell their electricity to the UK after Brexit
  • Most of the UK's gas imports come from Norway – Britain is not dependent on Russia

Remain

  • Leaving the EU would see energy bills rise by £500m
  • Britain’s energy security is stronger as part of the EU because it negotiates as a large bloc
  • The UK has cleaner water and air, and lower greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to EU action

Farming and fishing

How the UK is affected by the Common Agricultural Policy and EU fishing policies. 

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) remains the EU’s biggest area of spending although its share of the budget is falling
  • EU subsidies account for 50% of British farm incomes
  • The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy sets rules for the amount of fish each country’s boats can catch

Leave

  • Britain pays more for the CAP than it gets back so leaving the EU would make more money available for UK farmers
  • The CAP also wastes lots of money on bureaucracy
  • The Common Fisheries Policy has devastated the British fishing industry

Remain

  • Many British farmers would go out of business without the support of the CAP
  • 73% of UK farming exports go to the EU
  • It was the EU that forced France and Germany to lift bans on British beef
  • Fisheries have to be managed to prevent over-fishing

Global role and defence

This issue covers defence and the extent of Britain's influence in the world

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • The EU’s role in foreign affairs has grown in recent years
  • Its foreign policy is led by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs who is assisted by the European External Action Service
  • Individual member states retain a veto on foreign policy proposals

Leave

  • Membership of Nato and the UN Security Council are more important to Britain’s defence than the EU
  • The EU interferes with defence procurement and wants to set up its own army
  • Britain would have more influence on the world stage as an independent country

Remain

  • UK needs to be in the EU helping to take big decisions, not sitting on the sidelines
  • Leaving the EU would diminish Britain’s influence on the world stage
  • Working with EU neighbours to tackle shared threats has helped keep Britain safer

Immigration

This issue covers immigration and free movement within Europe.

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • Total net migration to the UK is running at over 300,000 a year despite the government’s target of cutting it to under 100,000
  • The most recent official figures put net migration from EU countries at 184,000 a year and non-EU at 188,000
  • EU citizens have the right to live and work in any member state

Leave

  • It is impossible to control immigration as a member of the EU
  • Public services are under strain because of the number of migrants
  • High immigration has driven down wages for British workers
  • The official figures underestimate the true level of migration

Remain

  • Immigrants, especially those from the EU, pay more in taxes than they take out
  • Cameron's EU deal means in-work benefits for new EU migrant workers will be limited for the first four years
  • Outside the EU the UK would still have to accept free movement to gain full access to the single market
  • Immigration is good for the economy

Policing and security

Cross-border policing and security collaboration but also freedom of movement.

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • Terror attacks in Paris and Brussels have brought security to the centre of the debate
  • The UK is not part of the Schengen borderless travel area but EU citizens have the right to free movement
  • Entry to Britain can be blocked if public security is at stake

Leave

  • Being in the EU makes it easier for terrorists to come to the UK
  • Supremacy of EU courts makes it harder to deport violent criminals
  • Britain would still co-operate with other European countries to fight terrorism after Brexit, as currently happens with the US

Remain

  • Britain does not have open borders because it is not in the Schengen area
  • Europol membership allows the UK to share intelligence and fight cross-border crime
  • The European Arrest Warrant has returned over 1,000 criminals to face justice in the UK

Sovereignty and laws

How far the UK has the ability to make its own laws and decide how it is governed. 

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • The UK has to apply EU directives. EU regulations are binding across all member states
  • Most EU laws are proposed by the European Commission but must be agreed by national governments and the European Parliament
  • EU laws are enforced by the European Court of Justice (ECJ)

Leave

  • Most UK laws are made in Brussels
  • Other member states can force through decisions against the UK’s wishes
  • The British government has repeatedly been defeated in cases brought to the ECJ
  • Leaving the EU is the only way to regain full sovereignty

Remain

  • Only a minority of UK laws derive from the EU
  • Britain retains a veto in many important areas
  • Cameron’s EU deal allows national parliaments to block legislation
  • Some sharing of sovereignty is crucial to enable fair trade across Europe

Trade and economy

How trade and the UK's economy are affected by membership of the EU.

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • About half of UK trade is conducted with the EU
  • The EU single market allows the free movement of goods, services, capital and workers
  • Trade negotiations with other parts of the world are conducted by the EU, not individual member states

Leave

  • UK companies would be freed from the burden of EU regulation
  • Trade with EU countries would continue because we import more from them than we export to them
  • Britain would be able to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries

Remain

  • Brexit would cause an economic shock and growth would be slower
  • As a share of exports Britain is more dependent on the rest of the EU than they are on us
  • The UK would still have to apply EU rules to retain access to the single market

Travel and living abroad

This issue covers travel for leisure or work, and living in other EU countries.

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • Over a million Britons live in other EU countries and millions more visit each year
  • Membership of the EU allows citizens to live and work where they like
  • The EU also makes rules which affect tourists travelling around Europe

Leave

  • There is no reason that leaving the EU would make it harder to go on holiday in Europe
  • International law means current expats could not be forced to return to the UK
  • The UK has deals with lots of other countries to help Britons living abroad

Remain

  • Flights to Europe and using mobile phones on holiday are cheaper thanks to the EU
  • British tourists enjoy free or cheaper healthcare in other EU countries
  • There is no guarantee that expats in the EU would be able to stay after Brexit

Work and pay

How working conditions and pay rates are affected by EU membership.

Why this issue matters

The debate

  • Unemployment is over 10% in the EU, almost double the rate in the UK
  • Some workers’ rights are guaranteed by EU laws but tax rates, benefits and the minimum wage are down to UK government decisions

Leave

  • Less regulation in the workplace would create more jobs
  • Maternity leave and holiday pay would only change if Britain decided to change them
  • The UK could get more investment from countries outside the EU
  • Lower migration would push wages up

Remain

  • Three million jobs in the UK are linked to trade with the EU
  • The EU has delivered guaranteed holiday pay, paid maternity leave, and increased protection in the workplace
  • The UK gets £66m investment every day from the EU