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UK at crossroads as referendum nears
June 18, 2016, 4:15 pm

"Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?" This is the question that British voters will have to decide on in the referendum being held on Thursday, 23 June.

Latest opinion polls indicate that the British public is fairly evenly split between the ‘stay’ and ‘leave’ camp with probably a slight lead for the leave camp. Analysts believe that the vote could go either way on polling day.

The referendum comes on the back of Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to hold one if he won the 2015 general election. Responding to growing calls from his own Conservative MPs and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who argued that Britain had not had a say since 1975, when it voted to stay in the European Union (EU) in a referendum, the prime minister had promised the gauge the public’s opinion on the matter through a referendum, saying: "It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics."

Those campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU say the membership gives the UK a big boost. The say it makes selling things to other EU countries easier and, they argue, the flow of immigrants, most of whom are young and keen to work, fuels economic growth and helps pay for public services. They also believe Britain's status in the world would be damaged by leaving and that the UK is more secure as part of the 28 nation club, rather than going it alone. Big business, with a few notable exceptions, also tends to be in favor of Britain staying in the EU because it makes it easier for them to move money, people and products around the world.

The ‘leave’ group believes that Britain is being held back by the EU, which they say imposes too many rules on business and charges billions of pounds a year in membership fees for little in return. They also want Britain to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming here to live and/or work. One of the main principles of EU membership is ‘free movement’, which means you do not need to get a visa to go and live in another EU country. They also object to the idea of ‘ever closer union’ and what they see as moves towards the creation of a ‘United States of Europe’.

Polls also show that after more than three months of debate about Brexit, only 37 percent of voters agree that Britain would be worse off economically if it left the EU. In other words, all the reports by the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the World Bank, and dire warnings from the British government and the Bank of England about significant losses from Brexit, have left 63 percent of the public unmoved.

The referendum will be the first big test of whether it is the experts and markets, or the opinion polls that have been closer to the truth about the strength of the populist upsurge.

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