As electoral campaigns go, the official 10-weeks allowed for the UK public to decide which way to vote in the referendum on Europe is nothing when compared to how long it takes for the USA to choose a president.
The four main contenders for the two party nominations for president announced their candidacies from March to June 2015 – that’s as long as 20 months before the eventual November 2016 polling day. Of course, that includes the campaigns leading up to the two party conventions in July – but that still leaves a final party versus party campaign of some 15 weeks.
In comparison, UK general elections that choose the government, and so the prime minister, have a final campaign time of less than six weeks.
So, as the presidential candidates prepare for their New York state primaries on Tuesday (19), the British referendum about Europe officially began yesterday, Friday April 15.
On June 23, British voters are being asked to choose whether or not they wish the country to stay as a member of the European Union. The ballot paper question will read:
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
And voters will be asked to choose between Remain a member of the European Union or Leave the European Union.
Of course, the Remain and Leave campaigners have been making their points of view known for months but, with the official campaign now under way, with the lead campaigns designated as Britain Stronger In Europe and Vote Leave.
However, all is not as it should be with the Leave.EU group claiming it should have been made the lead leave group, that the criteria were not followed correctly and that it is going to seek a judicial review.
If that turns out to be the case, it could mean that the referendum might be delayed by weeks if not months.
And that is not the only problem. There is a separate legal action in the works. Lawyers for expat pensioner Harry Shindler have said his judicial review against the UK’s expat voting ban will be heard in the High Court as planned. His lawsuit is on behalf of all British expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years and so are denied votes by a UK law that David Cameron’s government is committed to repeal – but not in time for the referendum.
An exact date for the hearing has not yet been set, but should the judicial review be successful, the government will be forced to rush through legislation allowing disenfranchised British expats to vote on June 23. According to Richard Stein of law firm Leigh Day, the government has time to change the law and empower long-term expats in the EU to vote on a matter which will seriously affect their chosen lifestyles.
Putting those two legal matters aside, and the time it would take to register all the extra voters if Mr Shindler is successful, former Labour chancellor Alastair Darling has accused Leave campaigners, who are calling on the money spent on EU membership to be pumped into the NHS instead, of “playing with fire” and peddling a “fantasy future”.
Polls suggest the referendum is currently too close to call, although we know that much can change in the next 10 weeks.