Everything you need to know about the EU Referendum in under 5 minutes

Yeah, you lost me: what’s the EU referendum?

Referendum; a vote on a single political decision which has been put to the public.
Example; Scotland had a referendum in 2014 to decide if they wanted to stay in the United Kingdom. (They did. Just.)

Right now; it’s about whether the UK wants to leave the European Union.


What’s the EU?

EU referendum - the flags of the European Union member states

Time to flag up our issues with the EU?

The EU is a political and economic partnership of 28 European countries.

It is run by the European Parliament. Members of European Parliament (MEPs) are voted in every five years by the public. MEPs set laws which cover transport and business rules in Europe among many other things.

The European Commission proposes laws to the Parliament and enforces EU law. It upholds treaties and looks out for the interests of the European Union – not individual countries.

The EU operates a Common Market.

Sometimes called a single market this means goods, services, money and currency; but most importantly people can move freely between EU states. The idea is free movement of goods and services, which means good news for business and everyone profits. No, it doesn’t mean you get stuff for free. 

In 1973 the UK signed up to the common market (called the European Economic Community or EEC) to trade with other countries and develop international relationships. Jump to 1993; the EEC became the European Union and the European Parliament arrived. Some say 75% of UK laws are influenced by the EU parliament; others say as little as 7%.


Is the UK better off “in” or “out”?

That’s the million dollar question. We’ll be wrapping up the main arguments for and against the EU in a way even an 11-year-old can get their head around. Stay tuned for the full video coming soon.


What you need to know


Save the Date

The EU referendum will take place on Thursday 23rd June 2016.

Cameron has negotiated a set of changes to the UK’s EU membership. He wants to:


– Protect the single market for non-Euro countries like Britain

The UK is one of nine EU countries which doesn’t use the Euro as it’s currency. Cameron wants to ensure that the Euro-using countries can’t gang up and force through measures on non-Euro countries. He also wants to ensure there is no discrimination or no disadvantage for non-Euro countries.


– Change immigration rules

Current EU immigration rules mean that people from EU countries can travel to Britain to work without needing a visa or a work permit.

This also means that they can claim state benefits. Cameron wants to reduce the number of economic migrants coming into Britain. To do this he plans to restrict migrants from claiming benefits until they’ve worked in the UK for four years. Everyone seems to think this is unlikely to happen.


– Get Britain out of the “ever closer union”

One of the founding EU principles which the UK signed up to was the ever closer union. This means European citizens driving to integrate more closely.

EU skeptics dislike this idea as it erodes our national identity and could lead to an EU superstate. Cameron wants a legally binding “get out of jail free” card for Britain. He also wants national parliaments to have more power to block resolutions from the EU parliament.


– Make Europe business friendly

The EU parliament sets certain regulations for businesses in Europe. E.g. the standards new products have to meet when tested. Cameron wants to cut the “red tape” which he believes is holding businesses back.

Cameron’s plan is to get the “best deal” for Britain, before we vote. For more details see his letter to the EU council and a speech he made explaining his demands.

Not everyone is satisfied with these demands. One Tory MP asked “is that it? Is that the sum total of the government’s position in the renegotiation?”

Another asked “how is he going to be able to sell this pig in a poke?” This is a reference to the allegations that David Cameron did something very naughty with a pig’s head whilst at university.

The latest reports suggest that the prime minister wants to push on with the EU referendum sooner rather than later, perhaps even before the end of 2016. We’ll be updating when we know more.


The Question

The question which will be put to the UK is ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’ The choice of answers will be ‘Remain a member of the European Union’ or ‘Leave the European Union’.


Only 18+ get to vote

You’ll have to be 18+ to vote in the EU referendum – this is different to the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, where 16 and 17 year olds got to vote.


The “In” Campaign

Britain Stronger in Europe (BSIE) is a major campaign to stay in the EU. Headed up by former Marks and Spencer boss Lord Rose the campaign has the backing of former Labour Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair as well as Caroline Lucas from the Green Party and Conservative Damian Green.

In Campaign Decoded: The campaign video concentrates on the business argument for staying “in”. The EU is our main trading partner – if we leave the free market we start paying import and export taxes which would hurt business. Without the EU the UK risks being isolated in the international community.

Though there are other pro-EU campaigns, it’s likely BSIE will be chosen as the official “in” campaign by the Electoral Commission.


The “Out” Campaign

The Vote Leave group is the official “out” campaign. The two main faces of Vote Leave are soon to be ex Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Conservative MP Michael Gove. .

Out Campaign Decoded: The campaign video focuses on the cost of EU membership. As the UK is one of the richest EU countries it (along with Germany and France) pays more for our membership. Some estimates put the total cost as high as £118 billion a year. Ouch.

Both Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave are cross-party campaigns – made up of MPs from various political parties.


Join the conversation


EU learnings; you didn’t sign up for it, and you may not get a say in what happens next. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care.

Are you “in” or “out”? Let us know in the comments below.


“My Turf, My Rules”; 5 things to know about English Votes for English Laws

More powers are being given to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As they get greater control over their own affairs does this mean English MPs should have English Votes for English Laws (EVEL)?


1) The process of making laws is already fairly complicated

How UK Laws are made

Laws are made in the Houses of Parliament

Though the system means it takes an age to get anything done, there are plenty of opportunities for MPs to raise concerns if they don’t agree with the bill.


2) Now it’s about to get even more complex

The Conservative government is trying to make a change called English Votes for English Laws. It’s a simple idea; only English MPs should have a say over matters which affect England only.

How English Votes for English Laws would work

English Votes for English Laws; a scene from Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers (You have no power here)

English MPs only please.

When a bill is announced, the Speaker will decide if the bill has sections which relate to England only, or England and Wales only. The first stages will go ahead as usual.

At Committee Stage, Bills are examined by small groups of MPs. The number of MPs who go on the Committee depends on how many MPs that party has in the country. So at the moment expect to see lots of Conservatives.

In the new system Bills which affect England would only be looked at by a Committee made up of MPs from English Constituencies. So MPs in Scotland wouldn’t get on the panel. See you later Scotland.

After this point English MPs (and Welsh MPs depending on the bill) will have two opportunities to veto or block the bill.

When the Bill goes to the House of Lords they may make changes. Any changes would need a “Double Majority” to pass into law. This means a majority of ALL MPs would have to vote YES to the changes; a majority of English and Welsh MPs would also have to vote YES.

Complicated? You have no idea.


3) It’s all about something called “Devolution”

Devolution; transferring powers from a higher authority (think: national government in Westminster) to a lower authority (think local government). The government gives away some of its power to local representatives.

At the moment most political power resides in Westminster, London. This is where the Houses of Parliament are, and where the decisions are made. After the Scottish Independence Referendum, where the Scots decided to stay in the UK, more powers were promised to Scotland.


England: We rule OK Scotland: OH HEY THERE

England: We rule OK
Scotland: OH HEY THERE

The Smith Commission (which explored the different ways power could be given to Scotland) recommended that the Scottish parliament be given more controls of taxation and welfare.

You may hear the term “West Lothian Question” being thrown around. This refers to the fact that as more powers are handed over from Westminster, English MPs will have less say over matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs do get a say over matters that affect England only. Sounds totally reasonable.

So to make the system a little fairer the government will introduce English Votes for English Laws.


4) Scotland is ragin’

Not surprisingly the Scottish National Party (they have ALL the power in Scotland) is pretty annoyed about this.

They see English Votes for English Laws as a way of cutting them out of the loop and a “cobbled together unworkable mess”. And of course this means everyone is talking about whether we will have another Scottish Independence Referendum. #IndyRef2 more like #tiredofthis?


5)  English Votes for English Laws; or Conservative Votes for English Laws.

English Votes for English Laws, an adult with a England flag over their head, slaps a child with a Scottish flag

How English Votes for English Laws will work according to the SNP

Depending on which political party you support, English Votes for English Laws will mean different things to you.

Traditionally the Conservatives always do better in England than in other parts of the UK. Labour used to have a lot of power in Scotland and Wales; after this year’s election things have changed a bit.

However that doesn’t mean things can’t change again in the future.

If in the future we had a Labour/SNP coalition in government, the Conservatives could potentially block new laws on the NHS and Schools in England. This is because these are devolved issues, and under the new system, English MPs would get a greater say in what happens. As the Conservatives are likely to have more English MPs, under the new English Votes for English Laws system, they could make it very difficult for a potential Labour/SNP coalition.

Possible outcome; the government in power would not be able to make changes in England. This doesn’t sound so democratic to me.

The Small Print; the next election is five years away, and a LOT can happen between then. We don’t know who will be in government next. It’s possible (but maybe unlikely) that another party could win lots of seats in England. But a system which favours a particular party is probably a bad idea.


English Learnings about English Laws; politics is usually complicated but this takes the p%$*

Should we have English Votes for English Laws? Are the Scots just being too greedy about the amount of power they get? Should we rename ourselves the Divided Kingdom of Great Britain?


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5 questions about the Queen’s Speech that need answering

No, it’s not the sequel to the Oscar-winning film “The King’s Speech”. Today is the State Opening of the new Parliament and all eyes will be on Queen Elizabeth II. Here are five points which explain the Queen’s Speech:


1. So why is the Queen’s speech so important?

Today is the State Opening of Parliament.  This means a new parliamentary year begins, and why the Queen outlines the new laws the government will try to make official over the next five years. The tradition of the Queen making a speech at the beginning of Parliament goes back to the 16th century. If it ain’t broke… As we’ve just had an election, the speech is even more important as it outlines David Cameron’s priorities as Prime Minister of an all-Conservative government.

The Queen's Speech: Queen Elizabeth II looks bored

The Queen’s Speech sets out the Government’s plans for the next five years


2. I thought the Queen only made a speech at Christmas?

The Queen usually makes a speech every year at the opening of Parliament. There have been a few exceptions to this convention in the past – twice when the Queen was pregnant, and also in 2011 when the government at the time (the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition) decided they needed two years to put their plans into effect, and by that we mean writing.

3. So I guess there’s a lot of ceremony involved?

You betcha. First, the Queen travels from Buckingham Palace in an ornate horse drawn carriage followed by the Household Cavalry. Major points for style and also for being kind to the environment.

The Queen's Speech: a man dressed as a horse dances

The Queen’s Speech: The Queen travels by horse and carriage

When she arrives a House of Lords official goes to get the MPs but the door is closed in his face. This isn’t just banter; it’s meant to show the separation between the Head of State (queen), and the government.

At around 11.30AM the Queen, now wearing robes and the royal crown will be handed the speech, written on parchment (posh word for paper). Queenie sits on the throne in the House of Lords and the commoners, meaning members of the House of Commons, come to listen to the speech. Real life commoners, meaning members of the public, aren’t allowed to come to the State Opening. Invited guests only: So far, so regal. The Queen’s Speech is written by government officials, but is signed off by the Queen before the opening of Parliament.

The Queen's Speech: A scene from the movie Brave, the lead character slams the door

The Queen’s Speech: the door is slammed in the face of a House of Lords official to show the division between state government and the monarchy


4. What’s in the speech then?

At the moment all we know are rumours. Bills expected to be in the Queen’s Speech include a referendum (where we all get to vote) on the UK’s membership of the European Union, new laws to reduce the number of immigrants coming into the country,  and more powers to be given to Scotland and large English cities e.g. Manchester.

The Queen's Speech: Rapper Snoop Dogg turns .. into a dog

Expect the Snooper’s Charter to be in the The Queen’s Speech… hint: it’s nothing to do with the rapper..

The Tories also want to get rid of the Human Rights Act , create a 7 day NHS and to give MPs a chance to take away the Hunting Ban – foxes beware! You can also expect new powers for the security services with something called the Communications and Data Bill. This means officials will have more access to messages sent via social media and calls made over the internet. People are calling it the “Snooper’s Charter” and people can’t agree on whether it’s a good idea….


Queen's Speech - twitter screenshots showing responses to the speech

Not everyone is a fan of the “Snoopers Charter” expected to be in the Queen’s Speech


5. OK, speech over – what happens next?

The Queen goes back to Buckingham Palace and the MPs get lunch after their hard morning’s work sitting listening to a speech.

In the afternoon the Prime Minister then addresses the House of Commons and the MPs get to do what they do best – debate.

They vote on the speech – though the vote is mainly symbolic. In the past if MPs voted against the bill it could have been considered a vote of “no confidence” which basically meant “we don’t have confidence in the government – get out!” A vote of no confidence can trigger an early election and force the government to resign.

No Confidence Votes are still a thing, but the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 redefined how the vote has to be specifically worded. What this means for now: if the Queen’s Speech is voted down it will just be an embarrassing early defeat for the Conservatives.

The Queen's Speech: Animation of the Queen sticking up fingers at the camera

The Queen’s Speech: The Queen rules, OK




Queen's Speech - twitter screenshots showing responses to the speech

Will there be protests over the Queen’s Speech, or just lots of jokes on Twitter?


What we learned today: the Queen’s Speech = the Government’s Five Year Plan. Due to the Fixed Term Parliament Act losing a vote on the Speech doesn’t mean the Government have to resign.