David Cameron didn’t really want Britain to have an EU referendum – he has made it clear he wants Britain to stay in the European Union.He promised in the last General Election that there would be a referendum, though. Why? Because he was worried about losing voters and party members to UKIP – the UK Independence Party headed by Nigel Farage whose lifeblood comes from wanting to leave the EU.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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 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’.
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.
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 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.
Are you “in” or “out”? Let us know in the comments below.
Party Conference is like the Glastonbury of politics. The leader’s speech is the headline act – an opportunity to send out a message about the parties values and aims to voters, but also to party members.
We explored what goes on behind the scenes, and why this 2015 conference season is so important:
2015 was a good year for the Green Party… up until the general election.
The “Green Surge” saw 13,000 people join the party in just one week. Leader Natalie Bennett scored points by being included in the TV party leader’s debate. The Greens were going mainstream and things seemed to be going so well.
At the general election 3.8% of the public voted for them, their highest share of the vote ever. However, due to our electoral system they only have ONE MP, Caroline Lucas.
If we switched to a system called Proportional Representation the Greens would have 24 MPs rather than one. So it’s no surprise that Natalie Bennett’s conference speech called for change.
She also criticised the government for not doing enough to fight climate change. The Greens just wanna be friends and will campaign to stay within the European Union.
They also got practical, collecting donations for the refugees in Calais, France. Perhaps less talk, more action is the way forwards?
Little mention was made of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. Many predict he will move the Labour party to the left of politics… with some similar values to the Green Party. If this happens, will there be much point in the left-wing Green Party?
Caroline Lucas MP seems to be up for joining forces with other parties on certain issues saying “we are stronger when we work together’.
Are the Greens irrelevant? Or will the Green surge continue? You decide.
The UK Independence Party is having a bit of a rough time.
Despite picking up 12.6% of the public vote in the general election, our electoral system means they only have ONE MP. Mega awkward.
This disappointing general election result led to their leader Nigel Farage resigning… only to return a few weeks later.
With the referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union approaching this should be UKIP’s moment. After all, this is why the party was created.
But it seems squabbles within UKIP might spoil things.
Leader Nigel Farage and UKIP’s single MP Douglas Carswell disagree on a major decision. They support different campaigns linked to the European Union referendum, due to happen before the end of 2017.
Farage used Conference to announce his backing for anti-EU group Leave.eu and thinks it should be the official campaign for Britain to leave the EU.
Carswell used to be a Conservative MP, but defected to UKIP. He supports Business For Britain, which hasn’t yet committed to backing an EU exit. Farage has accused Carswell of having “residual loyalty” to his old Tory party. Even more awkward.
Will frenemies Farage and Carswell put aside their differences before the referendum?
AKA the one we’ve all been waiting for.
The Conservative Party are back in government – and for the first time since 1992 have enough parliamentary seats to form a majority. No longer held back by the Liberal Democrats they are free to do as they please… for the next five years at least.
David Cameron’s announcement that he will stand down before 2020 means everyone is wondering who will be next in line for the PM crown. Could it be George Osborne? Or perhaps Boris Johnson or Teresa May?
For now David Cameron looked secure, as he and the Tory big wigs outlined the Tory agenda for the next five years.
Cameron promised to build 200,000 new homes to tackle the housing crisis, to renew Britain’s Trident Nuclear system. He also outlined a more compassionate approach to the prison system, which Michael Gove had introduced the day before.
“We have got to get away from the sterile lock-em-up or let-em-out debate, and get smart about this.
When prisoners are in jail, we have their full attention for months at a time – so let’s treat their problems, educate them, put them to work.”
The infamous Trade Unions Bill, which will make it harder for trade unions to strike, also got a mention at Conference.
Perhaps buoyed by his recent election success Cameron slammed Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. Miaow.
“My friends – we cannot let that man inflict his security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology on the country we love.”
Home Secretary Teresa May announced tough new laws on immigration.
“While we must fulfil our moral duty to help people in desperate need, we must also have an immigration system that allows us to control who comes to our country.
Because when immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society.”
However, things aren’t all plain sailing. A number of divisions appear in the Tory party. The Conservatives are divided over whether the UK should leave the European Union. The referendum on whether to stay in or get out will take place…at some point…before 2017.
The Conservative conference took place behind a riot fence. Outside the conference venue 60,000 people gathered for an anti-austerity march.
Chief Supt John O'Hare said: "Today around 60,000 people took part in a demonstration and I would like to thank them for their cooperation."
— G M Police (@gmpolice) October 4, 2015
Tory delegates were told in an email not to wear their Conservative passes outside of the secure compound.
Which was a little OTT as most of the protesters took part peacefully. Yet, some of some people focused on some negative behaviour, like spitting and egging. We’re not showing that… as, you know, the majority of the protesters took part in good faith. If you don’t believe us, believe the police;
Ch Supt O'Hare said: "The overwhelming majority of people have exercised their democratic right to protest with dignity and good grace."
— G M Police (@gmpolice) October 4, 2015
Will the Conservatives deliver on their promises? Or are their days in power numbered?
SNP, 15th-17th October 2015
Plaid Cymru, 23rd October-10th November 2015
The Political Party Conference season is in full swing. What is this and why should you care?
Imagine it as a festival; the Glastonbury of politics.
At a festival, there are loads of bands, poets, theatre makers all vying for your attention. They want you to come to their gig, or support their cause. This is a little similar to a party conference.
Each year in party conference season politicians and party members get together to discuss what the party’s aims and values should be. Businesses and other groups send lobbyists, who attempt to influence the decisions and policies decided at conference.
Whatever you want to get out of party conference, odds are you can find it. There are prayer breakfasts, a running club and different lobbying groups trying to meet politicians. Luke James, parliamentary correspondent at the Morning Star, describes it as a “democratic festival whirlwind”.
“You’ve got people going here there and everywhere, and it’s not just in the conference centre – There’s literally dozens of fringe meetings every day starting at 7.30AM”.
Just don’t expect to see anyone raving. Ed Miliband we’re looking at you.
Each political party decides what to discuss in difference ways.
Labour has a National Policy Forum, made up of MPs, councillors and trade unions, which creates reports on various issues.
Some these are discussed at conference and go on to form Labour policy. However, party conference is not always where policy is made.
Luke James notes that in the past “a motion is passed at a Labour conference it doesn’t necessary mean it will become policy.” This is because they have very complex policy making process, as reported by the BBC.
When it comes to discussing policy the Green Party took a more artistic approach at their spring conference this year.
Members scrawled “visual minutes” of the issues being covered at conference onto a massive mural. Somehow we can’t imagine the Conservatives following suit. You never know though.
We’ve just had a general election – and the losers need to start planning for the next one.
If party conference is Glastonbury for politics, then the leader’s speech is the headline act. The Labour Party and the Lib Dems have new leaders who have to quickly make their mark.
UKIP needs to assert itself as a dominant force before the upcoming EU referendum and the Green Party needs to make the most of its increase in membership.
In Scotland, the SNP needs to set the agenda for the Scottish Parliament elections next year, and many are talking about the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum. Cor blimey.
Don’t forget the current government, the Conservatives. With a small majority David Cameron needs the backing of his entire party to push through new laws.
After some ham-fisted attacks online over the alleged #piggate scandal, he’ll want to move forward to more important matters – like Europe and the refugee crisis.
Though solid policy decisions may not be set at conference, it is important for setting the tone for the various parties; especially important as we have two new leaders for the opposition parties.
Even if you’re not political, you’ll probably have an opinion about what the government and the opposition parties stand for. Therefore conference is really important for getting the party message across to potential voters.
Party Conference in a nutshell;
At a festival you can reinvent yourself. You can let your hair down, try new things and decide who you want to be. Similarly these political party conferences, at the start of a new parliament, are an opportunity for the party leaders to set the agenda for the next 5 years.
Just like a festival, party conference can be exciting and busy – but don’t expect all policy to be decided right this minute.
When did the European migration crisis turn into a refugee crisis? What’s the difference, and what does it have to do with immigration?
By Bobbie Mills
Whatever you think about migration, chances are you will agree that what has been happening across Europe over the past few months is a shocking mess. Over 2,500 are estimated to have died in the Mediterranean Sea since the start of 2015. Sadly, this is nothing new. The conflict in Syria mean that thousands more have judged it time to leave, adding to the 11 million already displaced in and around Syria and adding to the thousands making the journey to Europe. It would be fair to say that the situation has stepped up a bit.
If this has been going on for a while, why are we taking notice now?
In late July, a lorry strike brought Britain’s attention to a “swarm” of so-called “marauding migrants” attempting to cross through the Channel Tunnel from Calais to England.
It could be argued that calls to send in the army were a little hysterical considering that the number of migrants trying enter Britain are a fraction of those in Europe. News also came of thousands of people in Hungary demanding to get on trains to Germany. Images of bodies washed up on beaches in Turkey, especially one of a toddler, caused moral outrage and European leaders came under pressure to take in refugees.
David Cameron announced on Monday that Britain will take 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next 5 years.
Not compared with Germany. The German Vice Chancellor has said it can handle up to 500,000 asylum seekers every year for the next few years!
The cheeky twist to Britain’s response is that the people it will host will be transferred directly from the refugee camps established in Syria and the surrounding area.
What about all those migrants already in Europe? The upshot is Britain won’t be taking them.
The British government reckons that taking in people already in Europe will encourage yet more to pay smugglers and to make the dangerous journey. How will residents of Kent and Calais feel about this? The situation isn’t going away on its own.
Another reason given for not taking in people who are already in Europe is, basically, that not all of them deserve Britain’s help.
Responding to claims that Britain is a “fucking disgrace” for not taking its share of Europe’s asylum seekers, Boris Johnson makes one point plain and simple: not all of these people are genuine refugees – many are “migrants”.
Hold up. What’s the difference between a “refugee” and a “migrant”?
Whether someone is considered a migrant or a refugee has massive and immediate impact on their life, and also on the countries and towns we live in.
A refugee is a specific legal category, defined by the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention as someone who:
“owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
A person is a refugee if they have been awarded refugee status by a state, or registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Refugees are legally entitled to a set of protections and cannot be sent back to the country they have sought refuge from. Whilst awaiting a decision on their asylum application, asylum seekers are not permitted to work in the UK and may be detained to make sure they don’t disappear. Charming.
‘Migrant’ is a much more wishy-washy word with no universally accepted meaning. If we go with the United Nations definition like we did for our refugee definition, their recommendations on migration statistics define an international migrant as “any person who changes his or her country of usual residence.” Simples.
Yet this is not what most people think of when they hear the word “migrants”. We tend to picture a specific type of migrant – an economic migrant. Economic migrants change their country of residence for economic reasons like work and better wages.
Britain, like most rich countries, has a never-ending debate about whether this kind of immigration is good for the country.
Some reckon that letting people come is an important part of Britain. After all migrants do jobs that most UK nationals just won’t do, like fruit and flower picking bent double for long hours. They bring skills that Britain is short of, like nursing and construction. There are also people who really value diversity. These people may also reckon that the world would be better if we were able to share its resources more evenly.
Opposing these views are people who feel that, given high levels of youth employment, if the UK is lacking skills then Brits should be being trained rather than foreigners being hired in. As well as worries about migrants taking British jobs, people also fret about non-Brits living off unemployment and housing benefit. You can’t have it both ways.
Also, some people feel that the rate of UK immigration is ‘too much, too fast’ as they feel neighbourhoods have changed rapidly.
A sideline to this debate is fears over “illegal immigrants”. These are considered to be economic migrants who have entered the country without a proper visa. People who do not have permission to reside in the UK can be detained and deported.
A debate on the language we use to talk about people who move from country to country has blown up out of the current migrant crisis… I mean refugee crisis… or do I mean migrant and refugee crisis?
Let’s go back to the start. All the jibber-jabber began when Al Jazeera announced it would no longer use the term ‘migrants’ to describe what was going on in the Mediterranean. ‘Migrant’ – it argued – had become a dehumanising, inaccurate term, undermining the value of the lives lost at sea:
“It is not hundreds of people who drown when a boat goes down in the Mediterranean, nor even hundreds of refugees. It is hundreds of migrants. It is not a person – like you, filled with thoughts and history and hopes – who is on the tracks delaying a train. It is a migrant. A nuisance.”
‘Refugee’ became the choice replacement – because the majority of the people at the borders are escaping war and persecution.
This was received really, really well. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) circulated the graphic pictured above and a change.org petition requesting the BBC to use the “correct” term for the refugee crisis gained nearly 75,000 signatures.
Here is how these groups are distinguishing migrants from refugees:
“All the prominent English language dictionaries define a migrant as someone who moves from one country to another in search of work and better living standards. A refugee, on the other hand, is defined as someone who is forced to leave their country in order to escape war and persecution.”
The difference rides on people choosing to move, and people being forced to move.
The problem: the difference between the two is not as straightforward as all these articles suggest. It’s the total opposite of straightforward. We had better do some explaining;
The million dollar question: who can really tell the difference between force and choice?
Research tells us there is little difference between the people who apply for asylum and those who do not. When someone leaves their home, is it because of corruption and violence or because they’ve been unable to find work? Aren’t the two connected? If it were you would you feel you had any choice in the matter?
No one wants to undermine the troubles of people leaving Syria; some would argue we shouldn’t undermine the problems of other migrants, either.
The petitions have got one thing right, the word ‘migrant’ certainly is dehumanising. However, insisting on calling them ‘refugees’ instead does not solve the problem. This is because it accepts the worthlessness attached to the lives of ‘migrants’, arguing that ‘refugees’ are a fundamentally different kind of people who are more worthy of help and compassion.
As Professor Jørgen Carling argues:
“When people drown at sea or suffocate in lorries, our first question should not be ‘so, which kind were they, refugees or migrants?’”
At Scenes of Reason, we reckon there is one thing missing from this debate: how do these people who are moving actually want to be seen? Who do they think they are, and who do they want to be?
Our media has given us the idea that everyone arriving in Europe would like to qualify as a refugee. But there are accounts (read page 66) of the shame that some people feel on becoming refugees. This is understandable – no one likes to be a burden on anyone else. Rather than the protection afforded by refugee status, some people would prefer a work permit and the opportunity to make their own way. What do you think? Beggars can’t be choosers?
Neither ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee’ are perfect as labels. The resounding message from people interviewed in camps is that they are people too. So, why not just call them people?
Explore: Why are these refugees all hench lads with iPads? What should a refugee look like?
This is a bit like the question ‘Nicolas Cage, good or bad?’ No one knows the answer because there isn’t one!!!
The debate on immigration has been going on pretty much the same way since forever. Have a read of Enoch Powell’s famous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech – delivered to a Conservative Association meeting in 1968 – to get an idea of just how much the debate in Britain has changed since then (hint: it hasn’t changed much).
It can always be argued that migration is good in some ways, bad in others. It may seem like a cop-out not to be getting down and dirty with the evidence for and against. Yet there is so much contradictory evidence out there that we begin to wonder: are we asking the wrong question?
Migration is neither fundamentally good nor fundamentally bad. It is normal and is not going to go away. The question that needs asking is how it is managed. This involves a lot of difficulties, like concerns about integration.
However, the bottom line is: the current ‘keep-them-out’ tactic is causing deaths.
Issuing key guidelines for dealing with what is happening in Europe right now, UNHCR chief António Guterres encouraged a common strategy but ultimately warned that “none of these efforts will be effective without opening up more opportunities for people to come legally to Europe”.
This involves expanding visa programmes, scholarships and all other ways to migrate legally outside of the refugee system. This, he says, will “reduce the number of those who are forced to risk their lives at sea for lack of alternative options.”
Who is right?
Boris Johnson, who says that “the first step to finding a constructive way forward” is “recognising that not all migrants are refugees”, or UNHCR chief Guterres, who reckons that solving the current crisis cannot be done without opening up borders to more legal migrants?
We’re now analysing the language we use to describe people who move from country to country. Should we have started doing that a long time ago? Should we think of the current refugee crisis as part of a much bigger, longer conversation on migration?
Bobbie has just finished an MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford. She writes on politics, the media and migration and lives in North London @MsBobbieMills