Archive: Second Vote

Posted on 2nd April, 2020

In his letter of March 7th, Mike Bennet suggested that it would be illegal to hold a second referendum on our membership of the EU without implementing the first, but that is just not true.


The law governing the 2016 referendum was set in place when the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was passed by parliament. This bill specified that the referendum would be advisory, not binding. So the government had no legal obligation to do anything.


When the advice from an advisory referendum is for change to the status quo, the usual next step is for the government to produce a detailed proposal. This proposal is then put to a vote either of parliament or of the people.  In recent years this sort of procedure has been followed in Denmark, France and Ireland.


Initially our government intended to implement its Brexit proposals without a further vote. However, in a case brought by Gina Miller, the High Court ruled that there must be a "meaningful vote" by parliament. One option open to MPs is to set up a referendum on Theresa May's deal.


The UK is a signatory to the 2006 Venice Commission's Code of Good Practice on Referendums. So it is surprising that the code's recommendations were not adhered to in the 2016 referendum, including two that have contributed significantly to the present confusion.

  • 15 Its advisory status was not made sufficiently clear, with the result that many voters thought it was binding.
  • 24 The result was allowed to stand despite funding irregularities on the part of both the major groups campaigning to Leave.


A second public vote, this time with options of accepting Theresa May's deal or remaining in the UK, provides a realistic and democratic way of dealing with the mess that Brexit has become.


Roger Porkess

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