1.On 23 June 2016 voters went to the polls on the question: “should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union”? This was only the third nationwide referendum in the UK’s history. The result was momentous: the victory for Leave- by a margin of 51.89% to 48.11%, representing 17.4 million votes to 16.14 million- was the first State-wide referendum in which the electorate rejected the advice of the Government.
2.Many months after that vote, and without any new referendum in prospect, it may seem otiose to pore over the details of the events leading up to the referendum. Nevertheless on 14 July 2016 the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) launched an inquiry into the lessons that can be learned from this referendum for the conduct of future referendums. This builds on the work of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) on the conduct of the Scottish independence referendum in the last Parliament. Both reports should be required reading for anyone contemplating a referendum at some future date. It is also necessary for the Government to take heed of the recommendations for reform to the legislation governing referendums now, in order to be ready for any future referendum.
3.During the course of this inquiry, PACAC has focused on four broad areas:
4.PACAC took evidence from the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, the two designated lead campaigns, Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave, academic experts and from the Electoral Commission. A full list of those who gave evidence can be found at the back of this report. We thank all of those who gave evidence to this inquiry.
1 House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Lessons for Civil Service impartiality from the Scottish independence referendum, Fifth Report of Session 2014–15, HC 111, 23 March 2015; Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Lessons Learned from the EU Referendum, 14 July 2016.
11 April 2017