Was the Brexit referendum legitimate, and would a second one be so?

Abstract

This article suggests that common arguments questioning the legitimacy of the first Brexit referendum prove flawed, as do certain others supporting the legitimacy of a second referendum. A different case for a second referendum is offered that would have added to the legitimacy of the first, but the opportunity for which has now passed. Nevertheless, it might be legitimate to overturn the first referendum through a normal parliamentary process should there be a significant level of Bremorse among the public, or a general election supporting a change of policy.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For example, see reactions to the Government’s defeat in the Commons on 13/12/2017 in which Parliament insisted on a vote on the Brexit deal, in which the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tells the Press the vote will not “frustrate the will of the British people”. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/live/2017/dec/14/brexit-eu-summit-commons-defeat-not-going-to-stop-brexit-says-government-politics-live.

  2. 2.

    For a clear account of both, although he combines the two arguments, see Grayling 2017, Appendix 1: Brexit, pp. 189–97.

  3. 3.

    See too the report of the Electoral Commission, on the campaign (2016: 50–53), which rejects the need for a “truth” Commission (2016: 3).

  4. 4.

    I am grateful to Philip Pettit for the formulation of this point.

  5. 5.

    Long-term resident EU citizens should be able, as at present, to become citizens of their host state with relative ease. But it also is justified that unless they are prepared to make the commitment to acquire this status they should be excluded from voting in national elections. See the contributions of Bellamy and Bauböck to Bauböck et al. (2012).

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful for comments from participants at the Oslo ECPR EPS Panel and Conferences on Referenda at the EUI and on Brexit at the University of Exeter. Further helpful points, not all of which I have been able to address here, were raised by Chris Brooke, Steven Klein, Albert Weale, Carlos Closa, Richard Rose and Sandra Kröger.

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Correspondence to Richard Bellamy.

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Bellamy, R. Was the Brexit referendum legitimate, and would a second one be so?. Eur Polit Sci 18, 126–133 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41304-018-0155-x

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Keywords

  • Brexit
  • Constitutionalism
  • Democracy
  • Legitimacy
  • Referenda