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A background guide to “Brexit” from the European Union

The Economist, Jan 15th 2016, 11:02 BY THE DATA TEAM

Tuesday 23 February 2016, by Carlos San Juan

IN EARLY 2015 the chances of ”Brexit”— Britain departing from the European Union—seemed remote. Today, largely because of Europe’s migration crisis and the interminable euro mess, the polls have narrowed. Some recent surveys even find a majority of Britons wanting to leave.

David Cameron, Britain’s Conservative prime minister, is partly responsible. Although he has repeatedly urged his party to stop “banging on about Europe”, his Eurosceptic backbenchers, scared witless by the rise of Nigel Farage’s virulently anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), have constantly hassled him to adopt a tougher line with Brussels. His response has generally been to appease them. One early morsel he threw them was the 2011 European Union Act, which requires any EU-wide treaty that passes substantive new powers to Brussels to be put to a British referendum. That sounded like a big concession, but no new treaties were then in prospect. In January 2013, Mr Cameron promised that, if the Tories were re-elected in May 2015, he would renegotiate Britain’s membership and hold an in-out referendum by the end of 2017.

A background guide to “Brexit” from the European Union


Following his election victory in May 2015, the prime minister claimed to have embarked on a renegotiation to fix what he says is wrong with the EU. Yet he was deliberately vague about what changes he wants, partly for fear that if his shopping list leaks Eurosceptics in his own party will rubbish it as inadequate. At the European summit on October 15th-16th, however, he was told by his fellow heads of government to produce a list of precise demands in November if there was to be any chance of the negotiations being concluded, as he at one time hoped, at the December European summit. He did produce a list of demands but a deal still eludes him. The prime minister is now hopeful of getting an agreement by the end of February.

The two campaigns, "Britain Stronger in Europe" and "Vote Leave", that are likely to form the offical lobby groups for each side in the referendum have set out their positions on the main topics that will form the basis for the referendum (see table).

Purple phase

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