Countdown is on to crucial EU referendum vote

Prime Minister David Cameron talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Prime Minister David Cameron talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel
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We’re just 120 days away from one of the biggest votes in a generation.

A referendum to decide Britain’s membership in the EU is to be held on June 23 – and already we’ve seen senior figures reveal where they stand on the major issue.

We’ve seen the case made that staying put is essential to protecting trade deals and businesses that work on the continent, while Eurosceptics argue radical EU reform is needed and layers of red tape that have been created can be scrapped should Britain decide to leave.

The EU can trace its origins to a coal and steel trade agreement in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Having become the European Economic Community in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome, it has since grown to become a single market allowing goods and people to move around.

It has its own currency, the euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries, its own parliament and it sets rules in areas including the environment, transport, consumer rights and can rule on other subjects like mobile phone charges.

But some feel the laws have gone too far, that the deal Britain signed up to 40 years is a lot different to the one in place today, and that the country needs to claw back some sovereignty.

Those concerns prompted the prime minister to agree in 2013 that there would be a referendum.

David Cameron has allowed ministers to campaign for a vote to leave the EU – even though his position is to retain ties with Brussels – to avert a potentially devastating split in the Tory ranks.

In doing so, Mr Cameron has seen senior members of his cabinet and other high profile figures – including Portsmouth North MP and armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt – declare themselves to be open Brexit – British exit – supporters.

However, many MPs in the Portsmouth region are either not yet prepared to reveal whether the will vote in or out, or are still undecided.

Meon Valley MP and Tory whip George Hollingbery said: ‘Like many people, I have formulated thoughts about the EU but I have two Question Time-style debates on Europe coming up in my constituency, which I will be chairing and where eminent experts will discuss the issues in front of a combined audience of nearly 1,000 over the two nights.

‘I have asked all those who have said they want to come to do so with an open mind, and I am taking the exactly same stance.

‘I will be listening intently to these two debates before making my final decision.’

Fareham MP Suella Fernandes is also undecided, but praised moves made by Mr Cameron to try and secure a better deal.

She said: ‘This is one of the most important decisions facing this country in a generation, and I welcome confirmation that the government is delivering on its promise to give the British people the final say in a referendum.

‘I applaud the Prime Minister’s achievement in securing the renegotiation.’

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said: ‘Like many British people, I am still genuinely undecided about how to vote in the referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union.

‘My heart has always felt that we could survive and indeed thrive outside the EU. We are the fifth biggest economy in the world, we have huge global influence due to our long-standing diplomatic and cultural ties, we are a permanent member of the UN Security Council and we are indispensable to Nato.

‘We have a wealth of highly skilled workers and talented business owners, driving innovation in the economy and one of the most highly respected and technologically sophisticated armed forces anywhere in the world.

‘However, this is a big decision – once taken there is no turning back.

‘I need to be as sure as I can be of the potential impact on the economy here in Gosport and the wider area.’

Meanwhile, Councillor Donna Jones, Tory leader of Portsmouth City Council, is rallying behind the Brexit campaign.

As part of a statement to The News, she said: ‘As the leader of Portsmouth City Council, one of the biggest employers in the city with over 8,000 staff including schools, I have experienced first-hand the costs of the overbearing legislation of the EU.

‘It also extends to businesses we own such as the International Ferry Port, and the effects the EU has had on sulphur emissions to the ferry companies sailing from Portsmouth.’

Cllr Jones said there are three main reasons why she wants out of the EU – so Britain can have control of its own borders, so Britain can control its own laws without European judges overruling them, and so judges in the UK can decide if they think it is legal and right to be able to deport international terrorists.

Cllr Sean Woodward, Fareham Borough Council leader, agrees.

He said: ‘Immigration and migrants claiming benefits in this is country are a real concern. How can a country be sovereign if it cannot genuinely defend its own borders and expel those who would damage our safety and way of life?

‘Why should we be paying for a foreign policy with which many of our citizens may not agree?

‘Why should we pay billions of pounds to support other countries with problems when we have enough problems of our own?’

Businesses say more information needs to be presented about the consequences of leaving the EU.

Giles Babb, chairman of Emsworth Business Association, said: ‘I’m not sure whether I’m in or out. It’s a difficult position.

‘The noise coming from the City seems to be that the big companies want to stay in the EU. Leaving the EU is a bit of a step into the unknown. Nobody can really tell us what would happen if we came out of the EU.

‘It’s not just going to be as simple as coming out – the EU won’t make it easy for us and it wouldn’t want other member states to start pulling out.’

Mr Babb, also the landlord of The Blue Bell Inn, in Emsworth, also fears the pub industry could take a hit should the decision be to leave as the price of imported beers, like Peroni, could rise considerably.

Mr Cameron, making a statement in the Commons yesterday outlining his deal aimed at keeping Britain in the EU, said the country will continue to be great regardless of the choice made by voters.

He said: ‘I believe the choice is between being an even greater Britain inside a reformed EU or a great leap into the unknown.’

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party was ‘overwhelmingly’ for remaining in the EU because it provides jobs and protection for workers, investment, and action on the environment.

The announcement of this year’s referendum on EU membership will mark the second time Britain has voted ‘in or out’ on Europe, and only the third referendum ever in the UK.

The first, in 1974, was on UK membership of the then European Economic Community.

And in 2011 a plebiscite was held over using the ‘alternative vote’ in general elections instead of the ‘first past the post’ system – with the public voting no, but only on a 42 per cent turnout.

What the EU does

n A say in international affairs

The UK has 73 MEPs, or Members of European Parliament, who sit on the European Parliament in Brussels.

European Parliament approves, rejects and debates legislation that can affect the whole continent as well as other functions such as control of the EU budget and holding the European Commission to account.

n Freedom of Movement

EU citizens have the right to move, work and live in any of the member states.

This is why you can easily have a Mediterranean holiday without having to worry about visa applications.

Should you decide you’d actually like to live and work or retire in the sun permanently then you should also have the right to do so according to that country’s own immigration policies.

n Working Time Directive

Are you working more than six hours a day without a break? If so, your boss is in violation of the Working Time Directive.

The legislation, drawn up in 2003, protects every EU citizen’s right to holiday and rest periods as well as limiting the number of hours one can be expected to work in a week.

n Single market

The EU single market means that companies can trade within Europe and not have to worry about any customs fees, nation tariffs or any other ‘importing fees’. Whilst this has grown to be a controversial subject after the economic crash, it still means that goods bought and sold to and from EU countries are cheaper.

n European Structural and Investment Funds

European Structural and Investment Funds were set up to help some of the least developed areas of the EU.

Most of the funds go to some of the poorest parts of member states, however all states are eligible for some amount. The UK was granted €10.8bn to invest in area’s where it sees fit between 2014 and 2020.

n Erasmus

The student exchange program was integrated into EU policy in 1987.

British students have the opportunity to spend a term studying abroad in any of the participating EU member states and this is widening to other learning programs for young people.

All of this is possible with €14.7bn from the EU.

EU talking points

HERE are five myths about the European Union.

n Our laws come from Brussels

Some Euro-sceptics have said that 70 per cent of British laws are made up and decided upon in Brussels, the seat of the EU parliament.

But due to the extent of law that covers the continent, it’s very hard to say how much is actually used in the UK as not all of the legislation in Brussels would apply. Sources estimate the amount of EU law in the UK to be between 10 per cent and 50 per cent.

n The death penalty has been abolished in Europe

The abolition of the death penalty is considered to be a fundamental condition of EU membership.

All EU countries have abolished the death penalty in peace time at least (some still use it in a state of war). Except for one. Belarus is the only EU country to still use the death penalty. Death by shooting is a possible punishment for 14 actions. It’s not known how many people are given the sentence, but abolitionist groups have confirmed executions took place in 2014.

n Brussels is the capital of the EU

As the seat of the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, many call Brussels the capital of Europe. Officially, Europe has no capital and Brussels is simple the de facto capital as it hosts the most EU institutions. The EU also has institutions based in Luxembourg and Frankfurt.

n European Courts can over-rule courts in the UK

While you can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which is an arm of the Council of Europe and not the EU, it is unable to change the decision made by British courts. European courts can say that a decision violates European laws, but it is up to Parliament to choose if they will change the law based on this ruling.

n EU membership costs the UK £20bn a year

The last significant mention of costs came in 2014 from Nigel Farage, who said the EU costs Britain £55m a day, or £20bn a year. Yet this does not reflect the amount of money the UK get back as well. Based on the previous figures in 2013, the UK actually contributed about £8.6bn in total after deductions and money returned.