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UK voters keeping eye on major parties’ stand on UK-EU relations

Voters in the United Kingdom are set to head to the ballot boxes in the European elections on Thursday, and they are keeping a close eye on where the major parties stand regarding the direction in which the country's relationship with Europe should be heading.

LONDON: Voters in the United Kingdom are among those set to head to the ballot boxes in the European elections on Thursday.

In the UK, debate is raging about immigration from the European Union and the control Brussels has over British laws.

There are also stark differences among the major political parties on where they think the country's relationship with Europe should be heading.

Free movement across the region's borders means people across the EU are able to live and work in the UK, and one in six of London's workforce come from outside the country.

Those who have travelled here from the EU are the lifeblood of many restaurants, shops and other businesses. But there are mixed views among the British public about the benefits of EU membership.

Gavin Nielson, a UK voter, said: “I think it's an absolutely brilliant thing, if you think about how the UK is as a country, as a culture -- it has always embraced other peoples' cultures.”

Another UK voter, David Whitmore, said: “The government needs to tighten up the Brussels situation so that we are not leaking cash; having said that, I fear for foreign investment if we do pull out.”

And Josephine Dunt, also a UK voter, said: “All the immigration and everything, you can't get a property, you can't get jobs, our country is completely finished.”

Views like those held by Dunt have helped the rise of Nigel Farage and his party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which wants Britain to withdraw from Europe.

Farage said: “It is power without limits, it is causing a tidal wave of human misery, and the sooner it is swept away the better.”

How the UKIP fares in this week's European elections will have major implications for the UK's main political parties.

Tony Travers, professor at London School of Economics's Government Department, said: “If UKIP does very well, it will indicate that the rest of the political parties -- Labour, the Lib Dems (Liberal Democrats), the Conservatives -- are cut off from a lot of mainstream views.”

The Conservatives are promising an in/out referendum after the next general election.

But if they disappoint in the European elections, there could be pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to take a more eurosceptic stance, for fear of losing votes to the UKIP in the general elections next year -- in which case the Liberal Democrats, who favour EU membership, would likely distance themselves from their coalition partners.

The main opposition, the Labour party, wants to stop as many powers going to Brussels but say a referendum is unlikely if they were to come into power.

The European elections do not usually garner this much interest, but with the UK's relationship with Europe and immigration such important topics to the British electorate, more people are taking notice.

Where the major parties stand regarding Europe is something voters in the UK will be keeping a close eye on in the run up to next year's general election. 

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