You might have heard last week that David Cameron is planning a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Admittedly, there’s no guarantee that the referendum will actually happen: it’s dependent on whether the Conservatives win the next election. But we thought we’d have a look at what might happen to employment in the UK if the referendum goes ahead and people vote for the UK to leave the EU.

The main thing that could change is the free trade that the UK gains from being part of the EU. Currently, the UK is part of the Internal Market, which means it’s easier for companies to trade across the EU’s 27 states. But if the UK were to leave the EU, that free trade could be restricted if an amicable deal is not made about retaining it. Companies could then leave the UK and find a new base in a country that is still a member of the EU, avoiding trade restrictions. 

Also, being part of the EU means that UK citizens are free to move, live, study and trade anywhere within the EU. This means that you’re currently not limited to searching for jobs or university places in the UK. You could branch your search out to France, Italy, Spain, or any of the other countries within the EU. Admittedly, a lot of EU countries are in a similar economic state as the UK, but you might find that you’re just the person a company in France or Germany have been looking for. And working or studying abroad is a really great way to experience a new culture and learn a new language.

But, obviously, if the UK leaves the EU this will become restricted. Although you’d probably still be able to study in the EU, you could find that fees are a lot higher because you’d be applying as an international student as opposed to an EU student.

Beyond affecting the potential of future trade or travel, the UK leaving the EU could affect people who work in jobs in this country that benefit from EU support. For example, in areas where much of the trade is seasonal – such as Cornwall – the EU supports businesses by helping to pay rent on offices, boosting employees’ pay and providing superfast internet access. If the UK opted out of the EU, all this would go, and it could see a lot more people losing jobs or struggling to survive on lower wages.

Having said all that, a lot of people think that staying in the EU isn’t really an option for the UK. Some even reckon that there could be a jobs boom if small and medium-sized firms are freed from EU regulation. The Bruges Group is fiercely anti-European, and claims that more than 90% of the UK economy is not involved in trade with Europe but it is still restricted by rules and regulations from the EU. They reckon a million British jobs would be created if the UK pulled out of the EU but stayed in the European Economic Area, which would mean the UK was still part of the Internal Market and could still trade with the EU in the same way that Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway currently do.

European politics can be a confusing subject, and there’s a lot of uncertainty around what would happen if the UK were to leave Europe in any meaningful way. It could negatively affect job prospects – and if you’ve always dreamed of working abroad in Italy or Spain, now might be a good time to explore that. If it does come to a referendum, the best piece of advice we can give is to do your research and make a well-informed vote.