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Divided Britain votes on EU membership

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Divided Britain votes on EU membership

Photo © Andre - Fotolia

(LONDON) - Britons went to the polls Thursday to vote on whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union, or whether concerns over immigration will push the country towards a future outside the European community.

Polling stations opened at 7 am and will close at 10pm BST. More than 46 million people are entitled to take part in what is only the third nationwide referendum in British history.

It is also the second time British voters have been asked to vote on UK membership of the EU, which it joined in 1973 when it was known as the European Economic Community. The first referendum was held in 1975, when continued membership was approved by 67 per cent of voters.

There has been little quarter given by either side in what has been a vitriolic and unedifying campaign, marked by the tragic murder of MP Jo Cox.

The main focus for those who favour British withdrawal from the European Union has been that there are too many immigrants ikn Britain, and that the country needs to leave the EU if it wants to be able to control immigration. They believe Britain can make its own trade deals, and be free from EU regulations and bureaucracy that they see as unnecessary.

Those who favour membership argue that in a world with many supranational organisations any notional loss of sovereignty is more than compensated by the benefits of EU membership.

They also argue that leaving the EU would risk the UK's prosperity; diminish its influence over world affairs; jeopardise national security by reducing access to common European criminal databases; and result in new trade barriers between the UK and the EU.

Leaving would, they say, lead to job losses, delays in investment into the UK and risks to business.

Business people in the UK have in the main voiced support for the Remain campaign, and are fearful of the damage that a Brexit would do to the British economy.

Some point out the benefits to British business proffered by the free movement of workers. Others to the advantage membership gives to British science, which benefits greatly from EU science funding, receiving much more than is put in.

Uncertainty over Britain's future in Europe has been immensely unsettling to investors, with analysts warning that a 'no' vote would mean the United Kingdom losing a major draw-card for attracting foreign money.

Whatever the arguments, in less than 24 hours the European Union will know if its second largest member is heading through the exit door and the British people will know if they must face the world alone.

The world is watching, as the implications of a Brexit go far beyond the United Kingdom. It would have major consequences for the whole of the European Union, which will, whatever the final result, redefine the contours of the common project which unites the 28 EU Member States.


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