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A referendum is not the panacea it might seem

There is a common misconception that the result of any referendum on continued membership of the EU would be binding. It may come as a surprise to some to find that the legal status of a referendum is not binding upon the legislature. Parliament is supreme, so it can ignore the outcome of any plebiscite.

8 March 2016

Remember, this is a purely legal argument and does not take into account any political consequences of ignoring the will of the people. However, for the moment, let us assume that the people voted to leave the EU. This would not trigger an application to Brussels under article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Under article 50(1) 'any member state may decide to withdraw from the [EU] in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.' This means that shortly after the result is known, parliament would have to vote on whether to make such an application to the EU. It would, thus, be theoretically possible for MPs to ignore the result of the referendum. Any tabled amendment would, too, be considered at this point, which might introduce a whole raft of alternatives, including the setting up of further negotiations before a final decision is made on whether to submit the application under article 50. Then we have the House of Lords. The net consequence...

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