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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Vote on UK’s ‘Brexit’|From EU Set for June

(CN) - British Prime Minister David Cameron and leaders from all 28 EU member states reached a deal to keep the U.K. in the European Union, but the final decision now rests in the hands of British voters.

The deal - reached late Friday after months of behind-the-scenes brokering and two days of intense negotiations in a special European Council meeting - gives Britain legal and binding "special status" in the European Union.

Britain already enjoys a level of special status that most EU member states don't, negotiated when the nation joined the early concept of the union in 1973: it retained its own currency; it is not part of the Schengen agreement for a borderless Europe and maintains entry and exit border controls; it chooses whether or not to participate in EU measures regarding freedom, security and justice; and most recently backed out of most provisions regarding police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

But many Britons - particularly those in Cameron's Conservative Party who have been termed "euroskeptics" - believe continued membership in the EU comes at a price the U.K. can no longer afford: as an EU financial powerhouse, they say the U.K. bears a disproportionate burden of the costs of running the union.

Seeking to quiet Britain's euroskeptics in that regard, the European Council agreed that emergency and crisis measures to safeguard the financial stability of the eurozone - comprised of the 19 member states that use the euro - will not cost EU members who have kept their own currencies a dime. Besides the U.K., those member states include Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden.

However, the council also agreed that the nine member states outside the eurozone will still be included in all negotiations, even those involving monetary policy. And the council agreed to reduce the administrative burdens on small and medium businesses, another of Cameron's sticking points to remaining in the EU.

Perhaps most telling, the council agreed that Britain has integrated as far as it's going to politically within the EU. The dream of "an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe" as laid out in the treaty that founded the European Union no longer applies to the U.K. and future treaty revisions will state that explicitly, the council said.

The council also reiterated that the responsibility for national security belongs solely to each member state, but stressed that it has always been that way.

As for Cameron's final sticking point - an "emergency brake" that would allow Britain to limit social welfare payments to citizens of other EU member states residing in the U.K. - the council noted that the freedom of movement for workers is a constitutional principle. But it also acknowledged that different social security schemes throughout the EU may cause some to move to member states with better payouts.

So the council granted Cameron's request and gave member states the right to consider a person's connection to the labor market in granting or denying social benefits. Furthermore, member states will be able to deny benefits to "economically nonactive" citizens of other member states who do not have sufficient resources for themselves and their family members and do not have comprehensive health insurance, the council said.

Whether the council's decisions will be enough to stop what the European press has termed the "Brexit" will be decided by voters in Britain and its European territory of Gibraltar on June 23. The ballot question will be simple: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"

Polls since this past September have indicated a tight race, with 54 percent of Britons leaning toward staying in the EU and 46 percent opting to leave - although a separate poll showed 20 percent of voters have not yet made up their minds.

Meanwhile - and despite Cameron's assurance to parliament on Monday that Britain would have "the best of both worlds" if it voted to remain in the EU - London mayor Boris Johnson told reporters Sunday, "I will be advocating vote leave."

And in an editorial for The Telegraph that ran Sunday, Johnson was more explicit.

"This is a moment to be brave, to reach out - not to hug the skirts of the Nurse in Brussels and refer all decisions to someone else," Johnson, also a member of the Conservative Party, wrote.

The British pound fell against all major currencies on Monday, slumping 1.7 percent against the dollar to its lowest level since 2009.

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