Case for a Referendum on the Outcome of EU Withdrawal Negotiations

This House of Lords Library Briefing has been prepared in advance of the debate due to take place on 25 October 2018 in the House of Lords on the motion moved by Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (Liberal Democrat), “that this House takes note of the case for a People’s Vote on the outcome of the negotiations between the UK and the EU on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU”.

On 23 June 2016, the UK voted in a referendum on the question “should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” with leave winning by 51.9% to 48.1% on a turnout of 72.2%. Under the terms of article 50 of the Treaty of European Union, the UK and the EU have been negotiating a withdrawal agreement. The UK Government has said that it will put the withdrawal agreement, and an accompanying political declaration on the future UK-EU relationship, before the UK Parliament for approval (provided for under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018). If the UK Parliament agrees to the withdrawal agreement and political declaration, the Government would then introduce a bill to give the withdrawal agreement domestic legal effect in the UK. The European Parliament would also be required to vote on approving the withdrawal agreement.

Some, such as the campaign group People’s Vote, have argued that the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU should be subject to a further decision by UK voters because the terms of withdrawal were not known at the time of the 2016 referendum. The Prime Minister has said a second referendum is not government policy, having argued that the 2016 referendum represented a ‘people’s vote’ on the UK’s membership of the EU.

This briefing presents arguments put forward by the People’s Vote campaign, and others, for a second referendum and outlines the positions of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish National and Democratic Unionist parties in the UK Parliament. It then summarises the legal requirements for holding a referendum and presents an assessment by academics, who have studied the issue of the practical considerations associated with holding a second referendum.