Alan Renwick: The Road to Brexit: 16 Things You Need to Know about What Will Happen If We Vote to Leave the EU

“Could there by a second referendum?

16. There is no easy route to a second referendum. There has been much speculation around the question of whether a second referendum to finalise our future relationship with the EU could be held. As I explored in detail in my earlier post, various kinds of second referendum can be imagined, but all face considerable difficulties. One idea, floated last year by Boris Johnson and revived yesterday by the Sunday Times, is that we might take a referendum vote to leave as an opportunity to negotiate not Brexit, but rather radically revised terms of ongoing membership. In the wake of a public vote specifically for Brexit (unless perhaps the margin is very tight), however, it would be politically very difficult for any Prime Minister to pursue such a path. Another idea is a vote on the terms of the Brexit deal once they have been negotiated. The alternative to accepting the deal might either be that we stay in the EU after all or that we go back and try to negotiate something better. The trouble with both options is that they are legally perilous: Article 50 provides no mechanism for withdrawing a notification of intent to leave the EU, and the two-year limit means that, if we rejected a deal, we could find ourselves on the outside by default. In practice, some way round these difficulties might well be found – but the UK might have to make significant concessions to get there. So, while scenarios leading to a second referendum are conceivable – such as if government and parliament are at loggerheads over the terms of the deal – we should presume that leave means leave.”

UK Constitutional Law Association

Cross-posted from the Constitution Unit blog.

Alan RenwickAs the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU draws closer, the result is impossible to predict. Many are asking what, in practical terms, would happen if we vote for Brexit. Alan Renwickexplored some key elements of the withdrawal process before the referendum campaign began. Here, he gives a point-by-point overview of what the road to Brexit might look like.

The effect of the referendum

1. We will not immediately leave the EU if the result on 24 June shows a majority for Brexit. Indeed, in purely legal terms, the referendum result has no effect at all: the vote is advisory, so, in principle, the government could choose to ignore it. In political terms, however, ministers could not do that. We should presume that a vote to leave means that we will leave (see point 16) – though there is scope for…

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