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Will The British Public Be Educated Enough For The EU Referendum?

28/01/2016 11:34 GMT | Updated 27/01/2017 10:12 GMT

From its original conception, the European Union has always produced a two way debate on the effectiveness of Britain's membership. However, this debate has intensified in recent years with predominately right-wing Eurosceptics and rebellious Conservatives leading the campaign to take Britain out of Europe.

The debate now finds itself steaming towards an imminent climax as David Cameron seeks to fulfil his promise of an In-Out referendum. However, with this being potentially less than 12 months away, will the British public receive enough information in-time to make an educated decision come polling day?

In terms of public opinion, recent polls have uncovered a complete divide between "In" and "Out" campaigns with a recent YouGov example stating that each represent 41% of the public. However, to understand why this split in public opinion has become so prominent it is important to analyse the driving forces that exist behind the Out campaign's motives.

Upon analysis, it is apparent that migration will be a prominent theme. This is supported by a separate YouGov poll that discovered immigration and free movement topped the British public's list of concerns when asked about Cameron's current negotiations.

However, when asked about their own right to freely move and live around Europe, 63% of a separate British sample believed that they should be able to do so. This is a contrast from opinions regarding the free movement of other EU citizens with only 36% believing that the same rights should exist outside of Britain.

In addition to this, the same poll asked another sample of individuals, with 15% opposing free movement for Britains while 48% opposed EU citizens' right to do so. This poll also discovered that a net total of +47 within Britain support free movement for themselves whereas support for other EU nations' free movement scored a net total of -12.

This contradiction conveys an ignorance towards EU principles, which in combination with attitudes towards migration, suggest that popular Brexit opinions are being based on emotion rather than facts.

As the rise of UKIP has shown, anti-immigration supporters benefit on the spreading of basic information within complex issues. Take EU immigration for instance, as UKIP's recent election campaigns have successfully gained votes on the pretence of misguided stereotypes it would be naïve to assume that similar tactics won't be used within this referendum.

An example of this is a 2014 UKIP advert that claimed "26 million" immigrants were coming for the jobs of UK citizens. This shows how studies such as a UCL report on immigration, which discovered EU immigrants contribute £5bn to the economy, can be easily undermined by emotional tactics.

Despite a general perception of Brexit campaigners being right wing, this debate differs from others in one major way. This refers to how each campaign isn't restricted to one political alignment with portions of the left also voicing opposition.

As the EU conveyed a ruthless character when dealing with Greece, it could be argued that principles such as austerity and Brussels bureaucracy represent opposition to left-wing ideology. If so, an argument for the left to join forces with Brexit campaigners may actually be quite valid.

There is also the EU's support for TTIP, which currently being negotiated by the unelected European Commission represents a severe risk to democracy within Europe. This is due to the potential of TTIP handing US companies access to European education, transport, water services and public health, which would include the NHS in Britain. As if this wasn't worrying enough, TTIP also includes a clause known as "ISDS", (Investor-State Dispute Settlements), which would enable private corporations to sue elected governments.

There is also an issue of apathy towards EU affairs. As statistics from 2014's EU elections show, only 35.60% of the eligible UK public actually voted. This was considerably smaller than other notable EU states with Germany receiving a turnout of 48%, Belgium 89.64%, and Ireland 52.44%.The average election turnout was 42.67%.

If this apparent apathy is accurate then a similarly low turn-out could be on the cards. However, with Cameron now planning to hold his referendum as early as June, will this really leave enough time for apathy to turn into interest?

This concern has been raised by various figures with Scotland's First Minster Nicola Sturgeon adding that a June referendum would clash with May's local UK elections. This limited time-frame between the events could potentially cause confusion amongst voters as campaigning for both would run almost simultaneously.

With the referendum imminent, there are countless questions yet to be answered. However, with time running it will be crucial for the British public to receive enough information, which does not yet seem to be happening. The cards are in Cameron's hands, but it is whether or not he will leave enough time for campaigning which is the real question.