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Britain debates membership in EU before Brexit vote

The potential consequences of a so-called Brexit – the British exit from the European Union -- on the nation’s economy, immigration, and sovereignty are deeply dividing British voters, with the latest polls very close. Special Correspondent Patricia Sabga in England explores both sides of the debate.

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  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    At the Cap 'n' Gown pub in Worcestershire, England, pints go hand in hand with politics. On tap tonight – the upcoming referendum when British voters will decide whether to stay in or leave the European Union.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    Which way are you thinking of voting?

  • SASKIA:

    I'm not sure yet. I'm waiting to be educated.

  • BECKY:

    I'm thinking in, but I still need to get more education on it.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    Famous for the Lea and Perrins sauce that bears its name, the county of Worcestershire, 136 miles west of London, has been at the epicenter of defining moments in British history – like the 1651 Battle of Worcester that ended the English Civil War.

    Still largely rural, its cathedral and cricket clubs are quintessentially British. With 92 percent of its roughly 600,000 residents White, it is more ethnically homogenous than the national average.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    In the battle over Britain's future ties to the European Union, the county of Worcestershire is a bellwether. And right now voters here are pretty evenly divided between those who want to stay in the EU and those who feel Britain would be better off going it alone.

    To woo the undecided, both sides have unleashed a media blitz.

  • BRITAIN STRONGER IN EUROPE AD:

    If we left, independent experts estimate 950-thousand jobs would be lost.

  • VOTE LEAVE AD:

    The Euro is broke, and the EU plans to let in another five countries.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    So Cap 'n' Gown owner Ted Marshall is trying to cut through the noise. He's organized seven debates in the run-up to the referendum.

  • TED MARSHALL:

    I would ask the people don't heckle too much.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    This gathering tackled perhaps the most divisive issue: the "freedom of movement" rule that allows citizens of the EU's 27 other member states to move to Britain, work here, and receive generous government benefits, including free health care for themselves and their families.

  • TED MARSHALL:

    Donald Trump has talked a lot about migration — you call it immigration — and that's the biggest issue here for this EU referendum, no question at all.

  • Man:

    This house believes…

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    Since 2004, when the EU expanded to include countries in Eastern Europe, the number of non-British, EU-born citizens working in the UK has quadrupled from around half a million to nearly two million. An influx that's pushed 21-year-old Worcestershire native Ellis Tustin to the leave camp.

  • ELLIS TUSTIN:

    Interested in leaving the union?

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    The first person in his family to go to university, Tustin says EU membership has fueled immigration that's harmed working class communities like his.

  • ELLIS TUSTIN:

    The entire culture of the town is totally shifted, into you know, it's almost for many people in this town they feel it's an Eastern European town now.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    That's one reason why Tustin joined the eEro-skeptic UKIP — the UK independence party. Described by critics as far right, Tustin says the party has been derided for a platform many Brits are too afraid to voice.

  • ELLIS TUSTIN:

    People are afraid of saying I'm tired of, you know, doctor's appointments becoming longer, I'm worried about my children not getting that place in school. Because as soon as someone says something like this in this country, they are immediately cast as racist or xenophobic.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    Tustin is not afraid to argue EU membership has hurt British workers, because, he says, immigrants willing to work for less poach jobs.

  • ELLIS TUSTIN:

    A lot of the work that people are doing is low paid jobs, and those are the jobs where the value is being undercut. Those are the jobs where people will say to the employers, 'I will happily work for five pounds less than him and still do the same job.'

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    On the other side of the debate is 23-year-old Worcestershire-born Richard Fulloway, a member of the youth wing of Britain's conservative party, Fulloway is applying to become a royal naval officer – a career goal that informs his views.

  • RICHARD FULLOWAY:

    What I'm looking at is the sort of bigger picture around Britain's influence in the world where Britain stands in the world.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    For Fulloway, that means not swimming away from Europe.

  • RICHARD FULLOWAY:

    The world is joining into power blocks, so you've got China, you've got Russia pushing its weight around over in the Ukraine, You've got China is the South China Sea. You've got Japan looking to rearm. You've got the U.S. trying to find its place in the world. I think as a country we are much better off as a group of 500 million people than we are on our own as 67 million people."

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    It's a group that's given Britain access to the world's largest trade barrier-free single market without having to adopt Europe's troubled single currency, the Euro, or bailout struggling euro-economies like Greece.

  • RICHARD FULLOWAY:

    We are in such a special position. If we left, you'd start paying import fees, you start paying export fees, you start, trade barriers start going up. Those jobs then start to become harder to pay for, and businesses start to let people go.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    A chorus of voices is warning that leaving the EU would harm Britain's economy, and that negotiating a new trade deal with Europe could be difficult.

    But some small business owners have found life under the EU too difficult.

  • MIKE HUMM:

    I heard it described recently as a stitch up between big global corporations and the big banks. And it's beginning to show like that.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    Mike Humm owns the Holywell Water company, which bottles and sells water from the Holywell spring nestled in Worcestershire's Malvern hills.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    How long has this spring been going?

  • MIKE HUMM:

    Oh, I don't know. (laughs) It first came into history in 1558.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    But according to EU rules, Humm couldn't label his water "spring" water, because he passes it through ultraviolet light to kill off potential viruses or bacteria.

  • MIKE HUMM:

    It goes through the UV filter, which is that stainless steel tube with the red end."

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    That's the one that's causing all the problems with the EU?

  • MIKE HUMM:

    Yes.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    Because Humm sells his product only in Britain, the UK government allows him to call it "spring water." Still, he spent months fighting an EU regulation, he says, was based on guidelines drafted by big corporations.

  • MIKE HUMM:

    Danon, Coca Cola, Nestle. What they're doing is protecting their market, and the inference is that Malvern water is not as good as theirs. That it's not a fine water. And that's rubbish.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    But some British small business owners have thrived in the EU.

  • RICHARD BOORN:

    I passionately want to stay. It's very important to our business."

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    Richard Boorn owns Bondtech, which manufactures specialty adhesives for bonding metal and horse hooves.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    How does being a part of the EU facilitate your business?

  • RICHARD BOORN:

    It enables us to bring goods in without trade barriers.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    …which means Boorn doesn't pay import taxes on the raw materials he sources from other European countries. But if Britain were to leave the EU…

  • RICHARD BOORN:

    We will pay more for our goods, because there will be important tariffs. This belief that we can stand alone — that boat sailed many years ago. We need to be part of the biggest trading group in the world.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    Many of the issues at play in the British referendum will resonate with American voters. Like the impact of immigration on jobs and the economy, or isolationism versus internationalism. And like the U.S. Presidential election, the politics of identity are shaping voter attitudes on this side of the pond.

  • ELLIS TUSTIN:

    My grandfather he has stories going back 80, 70 years on this street. Now he did not stand as a kid in the center of the street there, looking at German bombers going over the top of us, for then 70 years later to have his sovereignty dictated by the same country that then tried to do it then

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    For Leave campaigner Ellis Tustin, that identity includes a Britain which emerged from the ashes of World War II to remain a world power.

  • ELLIS TUSTIN:

    We are the fifth largest economy in the world. We have the fourth largest military budget. We hold a seat on the Security Council. We are a member-founder of the G-8. We are worth more than a star on somebody else's map.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    But Stay campaigner Richard Fulloway believes the nation should take pride in its EU standing.

  • RICHARD FULLOWAY:

    When I you know see our Prime Minister sit at the table as equal with every other European nation, I don't understand why you would not feel proud to be at that table. I don't know why standing outside that room would make you more proud to be British.

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    At the Cap 'n' Gown, the stay camp won this debate by a show of hand, but the arguments rage on.

  • MAN:

    Why can't we see my doctor then?

  • MAN:

    This country…

  • MAN:

    Let's move on, please!

  • PATRICIA SABGA:

    If Britain votes to leave, it will start a two year clock to officially exit the EU. And if it votes to stay…

  • TED MARSHALL:

    If we stay, let's get in there. Let's make Europe great as well as Great Britain. If we leave, we've got a lot of work to do, we've got a lot work to do. But, we are Great Britain.

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