On the Thursday, 23 June 2016, Britain will hold a referendum on whether it should exit the European Union (Brexit). On the outcome depends Britain’s future relations with continental Europe. The question to be answered is: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? The options on the referendum ballot will be:
- Remain a member of the European Union, and
- Leave the European Union.
The polls close at 2200 BST (1700 EDT) with the results expected to be known within four to six hours.
All British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 years of age who are resident in the UK are entitled to vote, as are UK citizens living abroad who have been on the electoral register in the UK in the past 15 years. Citizens from EU countries will not be given a vote.
The result of the referendum will hold considerable political weight, but it will not be legally binding nor take effect immediately. Under EU rules, the terms of a withdrawal would have to be negotiated and could not come into force for at least two years. Under UK law, the withdrawal agreement would then have to be submitted to Parliament for approval. If the vote had been close, as current polls suggest it could be, and feelings were still running high, it is quite conceivable MPs could reject the withdrawal agreement absolutely or insist on its renegotiation. Such a decision could, in turn, precipitate national elections.
Elite opinion in Canada has generally echoed that in the UK and most EU member states: Brexit would be a national catastrophe for Britain and a sharp blow to the post-war dream of European unification. Only time could tell whether either proposition turned out to be valid. But were Britain to vote to leave the European Union, it ought to be seen for what it really is: another reflection of the popular discontent which prevails throughout the democratic world with the inability of the political class to take seriously citizens’ concerns about the deleterious consequences of globalization for the preservation of national values and institutions and economies.