Under what conditions do politicians oppose referendums especially to decide questions of European integration? Existing literature has identified reasons why governments and political parties pledge to hold non-mandatory referendums to ratify EU treaties or determine a country’s participation in the EU project, and some studies have analysed the effect of voter demand and attitudes towards EU referendums. This study examines the positions politicians themselves take towards popular participation in decision-making on the EU. The paper presents a summative content analysis of parliamentary debates in the United Kingdom between 1974 and 2010, tracing MPs’ arguments against using referendums to determine the UK’s participation in EU integration. Our results indicate that the range of claims made by MPs in the House of Commons against referendums on European matters has narrowed over time, although opposing arguments have continued to fall into the same set of four argumentative strategies. We find that institutional arguments, reflecting a Burkean understanding of representative democracy, consistently predominate over arguments that cite practical, political and manipulation concerns.
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Referendums are said to be ‘pro-hegemonic’ when they are used by the ruling elites only to strengthen their power (see Qvortrup 2002).
ALCESTE stands for Analyse des Lexèmes Co-occurents dans les Énnoncés Simples d’un texte (analysis of the co-occurring lexemes within the simple statements of a text). Its algorithm, based on Benzecri’s contributions in textual statistics, was created by Max Reinert.
The full Alceste and NVivo reports produced for this research, the original dataset and the coding scheme are available on a webpage dedicated to this study.
The Amsterdam and Nice Treaties in the late 1990 s and early 2000 s, respectively, also generated fewer discussions about the use of the referendum.
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We thank the ESRC for a Grant to fund this work (ref: 026-27- 2431). We are also very grateful to Albert Weale, Ken Benoit, Simon Hix and Nick Allen who provided helpful comments and suggestions on our manuscript.
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Bicquelet, A., Addison, H. How to refuse a vote on the EU? The case against the referendum in the House of Commons (1974–2010). Qual Quant 51, 2141–2162 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-016-0374-6
- Content analysis
- Parliamentary debates
- Computer assisted text analysis