Why a British referendum on EU Membership Will Not Solve the Europe Question

Andrew Glencross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


British politics has long revered parliamentary sovereignty as the expression of
the United Kingdom’s unbroken and incremental path towards democratic selfgovernment.
Such a political culture ought to be hostile to direct democracy,
yet all the most important constitutional decisions of the past two decades have
been decided by referendums in one or all constituent parts of the UK.1
The first UK-wide referendum was held in 1975 and concerned whether to stay in the then European Economic Community. Britons’ decision to maintain membership then has had wide-ranging constitutional ramifications and sparked an enduring political debate on the country’s relationship with European integration. Forty years later, an in/out referendum on EU membership is increasingly seen—especially by the Conservative Party—as the best way to settle the ‘Europe question’ of how far to pursue closer political union. But while the resort to direct democracy is unsurprising in the context of referendum-led constitutional evolution, the expectation that a popular vote can actually settle the vast number of political issues EU membership raises is puzzling
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-317
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2015

Bibliographical note

© 2015 The Author(s). International Affairs © 2015 The Royal Institute of International Affairs.


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