Voting for the European Union referendum, or Brexit as it has come to be known, began all over the United Kingdom at 7 am GMT on Thursday. The vote, which will determine whether the UK remains a part of the EU or not, has been a polarising affair with early predictions showing that the “Remain” camp is only just slightly ahead of the “Leave” supporters. Results are likely to be declared early on Friday morning.
The EU is a strategic economic and political coalition that brings together 28 countries, allowing them to trade on common terms, and make some key political decisions collectively. The UK has always maintained a unique position in the EU, refusing to participate in some of the collective moves, such as using the Euro currency.
The two sides
British Prime Minister David Cameron has been campaigning loudly in support of Britain remaining with the EU, and has been trying to create a new deal with the Union on special terms for the country to remain. Among them are provisions that involve Britain not having to participate in future EU bailouts, and continuing to use its Pound as currency. While the EU on the whole wants Britain to stay, such moves could set a dangerous precedent as other countries could make similar demands in the future.
On the other hand, supporters of the “Leave” proposition argue that it will be an economically fruitful move as the country will not be forced to contribute to the EU’s schemes, though not everyone agrees that the facts align on this. Several economists have argued that leaving the Union might actually hurt Britain, as it would compromise the very strong trade ties between the two. Among those leading the charge on the “Leave” side of the debate is right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party’s leader Nigel Farage, who has also been using the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric to bolster his argument that the UK is best served on its own.
What’s at stake
Whether the UK leaves or not will also have far-reaching effects on international markets and trade, and especially on EU politics. Eastern European countries are watching closely as their residents find jobs in the UK in larger numbers owing to favourable immigration norms within the Union.
Also, if Britain leaves, there will be a shift in power among other big players in the EU, such as France and Germany. While Britain and France have traditionally taken opposing stands in EU debates, Germany has largely been seen as an arbitrator. If Britain leaves, Germany might start playing a stronger role. The Union is wary of this, especially given Germany’s unpopular approach to taking in many refugees from West Asia and Africa.
The Brexit vote also affects trade ties with India. For a comprehensive look at what could happen in either case, read Scroll.in's India-Brexit explainer.