Tuesday 31 May 2016

UK and the EU (9) - A monumental referendum - Information to assist

The monumental EU Referendum on 23rd June is undoubtedly the most important decision the British electorate will ever make.  It is also a very complex matter.  The outcome will determine the UK's future for many years (perhaps decades) to come.  Several vital questions lie at the heart of the issue.  The economy is the central question: will it prosper more within the EU than outside?

Many voters wish to make an INFORMED decision rather than rely on the barrage of often exaggerated claims from politicians on both sides of the argument.  At present, there are no absolutely clear cut answers to some of the questions raised but there is also a great deal of misinformation.  This post offers links to referendum-related material that has become available but it is by no means a comprehensive selection.  The reader should consider the extent to which the material offered is reliable and objective.

: European Council - Settlement for UK in the EU :

Although there has been little recent mention of it, the terms negotiated by the Prime Minister and set out in the European Council Conclusions of 19th February 2016 are important since votes in the referendum are cast against the background of those terms - see discussion at Law and Lawyers - Brexit Referendum: a few points.  In claiming that the Conclusions are legally binding within the EU, the government relied on this Opinion by Sir Alan Dashwood QC - 20th February.  The Conclusions contain important statements regarding the UK and "ever closer union" and UK and the Eurozone.

Here are two assessments of the settlement - Open Europe - What did the UK achieve it its EU renegotiation?   Chatham House - Cameron's incomplete negotiation complicates EU vote

: Information from Parliament :

Parliament - The UK's EU Referendum 2016 explained and  EU Referendum: impartial information to help you decide

Parliament - Impact of an EU exit in key UK policy areas 

: Balance of Competencies Review :

A review of the balance of competencies between EU and UK took place from mid 2012 to the end of 2014 and resulted in 32 reports.

: Referendum Act information :

The Government was required by the Referendum Act to publish certain material- "The best of both worlds: the UK's special status in a reformed EU" and - Alternatives to membership: possible models for the UK outside the EU and Rights and Obligations of EU Membership

: Wales :

Cardiff University - Wales Governance Centre - Wales and the EU Hub

EU funds in Wales

: Northern Ireland :

Parliament - Northern Ireland Affairs Committee - Northern Ireland and the EU

Mr Bertie Ahern (Former Taoiseach) on the need to impose Border controls in the event that UK leaves the EU - The Guardian 4th June 2016   The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland would be the only land border between UK and EU.  The implications of UK leaving the EU for the UK - Republic of Ireland Common Travel Area will have to be considered.

:Independent analysis :

The following claim to contain independent analysis:

a) Changing Europeanalysis on UK-EU relations - e.g. video  EU Referendum - Get informed. Get the facts.

b) BBC - EU Referendum issues guide: Explore the arguments 

c) Fullfact.org - Europe - Fullfact states that it is - "the UK’s independent, non-partisan, factchecking charity. We check claims made by politicians, the media, pressure groups, and other voices in public debate, and push for corrections where necessary. We also work with government departments and academic research institutions to improve the quality and communication of technical information at source, and campaign for greater transparency in the public arena."

d) Cambridge Law - a series of short videos by academics from the University of Cambridge and beyond seeks to shed light on the key issues to be considered in the run up to the upcoming referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union -e.g. - EU Referendum: Free movement of workers - EU Criminal Law - Free Trade - and others 

e) Matrix Chambers - EU Law - Countdown to the Referendum - a series of articles.

f) Professor Vernon Bogdanor - Learning from History - The 1975 referendum on Europe

g) Professor Michael Dougan - University of Liverpool - 14th June 2016 

h) Francis Fitzgibbon QC - If we leave 

i) Lallands Peat Worrier - The impact of Brexit on Devolution

: The economy :

a) CBI - UK and the EU: The economic case for remaining

b) Institute of Economic Affairs - European Union 

c) Royal Economic Society - various articles  including Economic Benefits from Membership of the European Union: New estimates

d) The Guardian 28th May 2016 -Economists overwhelmingly reject Brexit in boost for Cameron
e) The Bank of England has published a report showing how membership of the European Union (EU) affects the Bank of England’s ability to fulfil its mission to promote the good of the people of the United Kingdom by achieving its statutory objectives.  There is much useful information within the report - EU Membership and the Bank of England

f) London School of Economics - Centre for Economic Performance - The economic consequences of leaving the EU. 

: Taxation :

A summary of the EU's role in taxation

Tax policy in the European Union (EU) has two components: direct taxation, which remains the sole responsibility of Member States, and indirect taxation, which affects free movement of goods and the freedom to provide services in the single market.

With regard to direct taxation, the EU has however established some harmonised standards for company and personal taxation, and member countries have taken joint measures to prevent tax avoidance and double taxation.

On indirect taxation, the EU coordinates and harmonises law on value-added tax (VAT) and excise duties. It ensures that competition on the internal market is not distorted by variations in indirect taxation rates and systems giving businesses in one country an unfair advantage over others.

: Viewpoints :

Some issues on which there is common misunderstanding or inaccurate information.

: The EU is undemocratic :

Note the Treaty on European Union Title II - Provisions on Democratic Principles

Criticism about the EU lacking democracy is commonly made but the critics do not consider the extent to which the British governmental system is also undemocratic - e.g. the House of Lords is not elected;  the executive has considerable control over the business conducted within the House of Commons; many appointments are within the gift of the Prime Minister etc.  Within the EU there have been marked improvements especially regarding the role of the directly elected European Parliament.  

The European Council comprises Heads of state or government of EU countries, European Commission President and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.  Hence, the British Prime Minister represents the UK at the European Council.  The Council of the European Union is made up of Ministers from the member states. 

The European Parliament was last elected in 2014 and the next elections are in 2019 - European Parliament elections.  The UK elects 73 Members of the European Parliament.  The powers of the Parliament (and all the other institutions) are contained in the European Treaties - European Parliament powers.  Also see - MEPs from the UK.

The European Commission is made up of one Commissioner per member state.  The UK's Commissioner is Lord Hill of Oareford who was nominated by the Prime Minister in 2014.  Critics might well think that the UK itself could come up with a more democratic process for nominating its Commissioner - e.g. Parliament making the nomination etc.  How a member state selects its commissioner is not a matter for the EU.

The candidate for President of the Commission is proposed to the European Parliament by the European Council that decides by qualified majority and taking into account the elections to the European Parliament.  The Commission President is then elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members (which corresponds to at least 376 out of 751 votes).  Following this election, the President-elect selects the 27 other members of the Commission, on the basis of the suggestions made by Member States. The final list of Commissioners-designate has then to be agreed between the President-elect and the Council. The Commission as a whole needs the Parliament's consent. Prior to this, Commissioners-designate are assessed by the European Parliament committees.
The current Commission's term of office runs until 31 October 2019. Its President is Jean-Claude Juncker.

The Court of Justice of the EU has 28 judges and 11 Advocates General.  They are not elected but are appointed "by common accord of the governments of the Member States" for a term of 6 years.

The judge from the UK is Christopher Vajda QC who was nominated by the British government in 2012.  Following the domestic selection process, nominations are forwarded to the panel established under Article 255 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union for further scrutiny, following which nominations are agreed by common accord of all Member States.  The Advocate General from the UK is Eleanor Sharpston QC.

The remit of the Article 255 panel is to give an opinion on candidates' suitability to perform the duties of Judge and Advocate-General of the Court of Justice and the General Court before the governments of the Member States make the appointments. The panel consists of seven persons chosen from among former members of the Court of Justice and the General Court, members of national supreme courts and lawyers of recognised competence, one of whom was proposed by the European Parliament.

Lord Mance (Justice of the Supreme Court of the UK) - The composition of the European Court of Justice - 19th October 2011

: The UK may veto various proposals :

Requirements for voting within the EU to be unanimous have reduced and, in particular, since the Single European Act 1986 - - Parliament - The EEC and the Single European Act

The Single European Act  (SEA) 1987 amended the Treaty of Rome. Its aim was to create a single internal market, which had been proving difficult under the existing Treaties. The SEA replaced many unanimous decision-making processes with Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), in order to facilitate the adoption of a raft of EU legislation by the end of 1992.

Today, unanimity is required in some areas - e.g. accession of a new member State - see Council of Europe voting.

: The EU Budget :

For a look at the total EU Budget and how it is spent see Europa - EU Budget

The EU spends around 6% of its annual budget on administration and maintenance of buildings

: EU Membership costs to UK :

The actual position is quite complex since account has to be taken of monetary flows in both directions.   A "membership fee" of £350m per day has been claimed.  This is not an accurate figure though the actual sum is substantial.  For a proper assessment see Office for National Statistics UK perspectives 2016: The UK contribution to the EU budget and The Independent - How much does membership of the EU actually cost the UK.

Treasury Committee 27th February 2015 - Treasury committee publishes report on UK's EU Budget contribution

Telegraph - EU facts - How much does the UK pay

: Are the EU's accounts properly managed :

The question of auditing of accounts is frequently raised by those favouring leaving the EU and claims are made that they have not been audited.

Fullfact.org Did auditors sign off on the EU budget - The European Court of Auditors (ECA), an EU body set up to examine the accounts of the Union, signed off on the 2014 accounts as reliable - something it's done for every set of figures since 2007. But it did find that payments made were materially affected by error.

The European Court of Auditors are guardians of the EU finances.  See also ECA Reports and Opinions.

The European Parliament has significant powers in relation to the budget.

: Immigration :

Fear of large scale immigration resulting from EU freedom of movement has been exploited by the leave campaign- e.g. BBC 29th May.

The House of Commons has published a Briefing Paper SN06077 dated 26th May - Migration Statistics

Fullfact 26th May - EU Immigration and the UK - In 2015, an estimated 270,000 citizens from other EU countries immigrated to the UK, and 85,000 emigrated abroad. So EU ‘net migration’ was around 185,000. Estimated non-EU immigration and net migration has always been higher, though the gap is narrowing due to large increases in EU immigration over the past few years, and the two are now at similar recorded levels.

Whether immigration would be reduced in the event of the UK leaving the EU is not entirely easy to answer since the situation would seem to depend on what arrangements the UK enters into with the EU.   Possibilities are looked at in  Alternatives to membership: possible models for the UK outside the EU- (the alternatives document). 

Looking at the situation of Norway is instructive.  Norway is in the European Economic Area (EEA) but not the EU.  This gives considerable access to the EU market but, as a price for such access, Norway has had to accept many obligations of membership including free movement of people.

The position of Switzerland is also addressed in the Alternatives document - (starting at para 3.27).  Switzerland has a complex series of bilateral agreements with the EU.  Again, it has had to accept free movement. This is contentious within Switzerland - see para 3.36 of the Alternatives document.

See also London School of Economics - Centre for Economic Performance - Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK 

: Will the EU get larger :

As things stand, the answer is YES though timescales for the accession of various applicant States are not clear.  A number of countries are receiving pre-accession assistance.  This is intended to help those States achieve the accession criteria.

One question often asked is when might Turkey join the EU - BBC 17th March and see Report by the EU Commission on Turkey's accession.  The present UK government supports the accession of Turkey though it is doubtful whether the British people (if asked) would agree.  It is disingenuous for politicians to suggest that when the time comes the UK could vote against Turkey's accession though it is correct to say that the European Council has to be unanimous in order for a State to accede to the Union.

More detail about accession is at - EU Accession Process

: Employment Rights :

The view of some legal experts is that Employment Rights could be at risk if the UK leaves the EU.  See the view of Sean Jones QC (May 2016) and Worker's rights from the EU: The impact of Brexit - Michael Ford QC (Advice to the TUC - 10th March 2016).

: The National Health Service :

According to Fullfact.org, EU immigrants make up under 5% of NHS staff.  See their article here.

: Miscellaneous :

a) Lawyers for Britain -  a campaigning group which brings together lawyers interested in Britain’s relationship with the EU. They believe that there needs to be a fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with the EU. This cannot be achieved unless we vote to leave the current Treaties, and then build a new and constructive relationship which preserves our trading links but restores our ability to be governed by our own laws.  (Whether a new relationship can be built and the form such a relationship might take is considered in the government's Referendum Act information - Alternatives to membership: possible models for the UK outside the EU).

b) LeaveEU campaign and Britain Stronger in Europe 

c) Institute of Directors - Institute of Directors 

d) A Commonwealth view by Dr Joseph Muscat (Prime Minister of Malta) - "If those advocating Brexit claim they are doing so on behalf of the Commonwealth, I respectfully say: “please don’t.”  The Commonwealth has no desire to see Britain withdraw from being a leading player in Europe. It is neither in the interests of Britain nor the Commonwealth."

e) Debating Europe - a website looking at various EU-related topics.

f) The Constitution Unit - many articles on the EU referendum.

: Earlier posts in this series :

20th February - Brexit ~ referendum ~ a few points - including link to the deal secured by the Prime Minister

UK and the EU (1) - History and Background

UK and the EU (2) - The EU Treaties - key points

UK and the EU (3) - The Parliament, the Commission and the Court

UK and the EU (4) - Freedom of movement of persons

UK and the EU (5) - Referendum - People need facts not slogans (Lord King)

UK and the EU (6) -Will Brexit be a simple process?

UK and the EU (7) -Your Rights

UK and the EU (8) - Trading bloc or emergent State


  1. Why is it "disingenuous" to suggest that when the time comes the UK could vote against Turkey's accession? I'd imagine that the UK could and would. Presumably the only reason why the current government supports the accession of Turkey is that they haven't told anyone about this stance.

    (Similarly, during the Dutch referendum on the EU Constitutional Treaty in 2005, the possibility of Turkey joining played a prominent role. As a result, I'm having difficulty imagining a set of circumstances where the Dutch government would vote to allow Turkey to join, at least in the current century.)

    1. Thanks for the comment. You may be right about the stance of The Netherlands though I won't comment further on that. Accession to the EU requires a Treaty with the acceding State and that must be accepted unanimously by the European Council. It is therefore possible for the UK to say NO at that late point when the Treaty comes before the Council. However, I think it disingenuous for politicians to say that they would say NO at that point. Cameron and his government have so far supported Turkey's accession provided of course that the accession criteria are met. (If they are not met then it would probably not be put to the council). Given their support, why would the British government then turn round and say NO though I accept that, as a matter of EU law, they would be entitled to do so.