Implications of the referendum on EU membership for the UK's role in the world Contents


The referendum

1.Following the promise made by the Prime Minister in 2013,1 on 28 May 2015 the Government introduced a Bill in Parliament providing the legal basis for an “in/out” referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. According to the terms of the EU Referendum Act, which received Royal Assent on 17 December 2015, the referendum must be held no later than 31 December 2017.2 Before announcing a date for the referendum, the Government undertook to secure reforms in four key areas: economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty, and immigration.3 A deal was struck at the European Council meeting of 18–19 February 2016, after which the Government announced that the referendum will be held on 23 June 2016.

2.The Committee decided to carry out an inquiry into the costs and benefits of EU membership for the UK’s role in the world to inform public debate in advance of the vote. The aim of the inquiry is to consider how EU membership helps and hinders the UK in advancing its security, prosperity and democracy through its foreign policy, and to consider the short and long-term impact of the decision on the UK’s role in the world.

Terms of reference and evidence gathered

3.We launched our inquiry with broad terms of reference covering a wide range of issues relating to the UK’s role in the world, and sought evidence on these. The terms of reference can be found at Appendix 1.

4.We took evidence from a range of witnesses, including the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini. We also met privately with a range of EU and UK officials in Brussels. We are grateful to all those who took the time to submit evidence and to act as witnesses to the inquiry. We are also grateful to Professor Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London, and to Dr Robin Niblett, Director of Chatham House, for acting as Specialist Advisers to this inquiry.4 We invited formal written submissions from Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave. These can be found at Appendix 2. Our final evidence session took evidence from spokesmen for each side of the argument. Their formal opening statements can be found at Appendix 3. Our additional questions to those witnesses, and their answers, can be found on the Committee’s web pages.5

Purpose and structure of the report

5.To be useful to the elector, this report cannot be an exhaustive list of all costs and benefits of EU membership for the UK or of all potential consequences of withdrawing from the EU. Instead, we highlight the major issues—as identified collectively by the Committee representing all points of view—that we believe voters may wish to consider in reaching their own conclusions on how a so-called “Brexit” might affect the UK’s role in the world.

6.We consider some of the potential risks and opportunities that arise from the referendum decision in the short term, then examine long-term consequences of the vote. Much of the public discussion has focused on the immediate consequences of the decision in the first few years following the vote. We find this regrettable. This referendum is likely to settle the question of the UK’s EU membership for decades to come, so we consider it essential to explore the potential impact of the decision well into the future. This is a decision for the long term and should principally be assessed in that context despite the inevitably more difficult prediction about what the UK, the EU, and indeed the wider world, will look like twenty or thirty years from today.

1David Cameron promises in/out referendum on EU”, BBC News, 23 January 2013

2 EU Referendum Act 2015, Section 1

4 Professor Menon and Dr Niblett’s declarations of interests are available in the Committee’s Formal Minutes 2015-16 (see Tuesday 8 September 2015).

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

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