Posted by: aboutalbion | June 19, 2016

EU referendum vote (6)

As the referendum vote comes near, I join in mourning the death (by ideological murder) of Jo Cox MP last week.  I think the most fitting tribute to the memory of her brief parliamentary career would be for a record-breaking turn-out at the referendum itself – whatever the result.

At the moment I am thinking about the sovereignty of Parliament, and this post is about the status of the forthcoming IN/OUT referendum itself.

I believe that Britain has only held two UK-wide referendums before – in 1975 and 2011.  In other words, the UK practice of holding such a referendum has coincided with the UK’s ‘membership of Europe’ which began with the passing of the European Communities Act 1972.  I’m asking myself whether or not the holding of a referendum is a procedure that comes from mainland Europe.

The status of the forthcoming EU referendum result isn’t clear to me.  Is it advisory to the UK Parliament?  Or is it binding on the UK Parliament?  If the latter, what has happened to the sovereignty of Parliament in this case?

And as campaigning resumes today, I hear unfamiliar voices.

On the ‘Leave’ side, I hear it said that “this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take back control of our democracy”.  This suggests that the sovereignty of a referendum eclipses the sovereignty of Parliament.

On the ‘Remain’ side, I hear it said that this referendum is an “irreversible” one with “no turning back”.  This suggestion is contrary to the conventions of the sovereignty of Parliament in which all legislation is in principle “reversible”.

Both sides seem to agree that this referendum is about a substantial constitutional issue.  But where does the assumption come from that a simple majority is enough to decide the result?  I incline to the view that something more than a simple majority is required for an alleged “irreversible” decision.

And must the necessary majority emerge from the UK as a whole, or must the necessary majority be present in all the principal regions of the UK?

For me, the sovereignty of Parliament can only be maintained if the referendum next Thursday is advisory to the members of Parliament.  It follows that something like a constitutional crisis will occur if the result of the referendum is not affirmed by subsequent votes in the two Houses of Parliament.

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