EU Referendum; Results, what this means, how can YOU use it?

No, I’m not the author, but enormous thanks to Ethan (Upper VIth & 2016-17 President of the Politics Society) for this one.

Love it or hate it, the UK’s EU Referendum results give all UK Politics students a wealth of examples to use in every topic.

Firstly, note the date and don’t forget it! The referendum was held on the 23rd June 2016 after David Cameron’s Government won a mandate in 2015- the promise that an EU Referendum would be held by 2017 being a direct inclusion in their manifesto.


Turnout was 71.8% and overall, the vote went 48.1% remain against 51.9% leave.

Interesting results…

The first thing to note is how divided the UK appears as a nation. England voted 47% remain to 53% leave as well as Wales, who voted 48% remain to 52% leave. In contrast Scotland voted 62% remain and Northern Ireland 66%, Gibraltar voted 96% remain! This could well signal a rise in Nationalist Parties, with Nicola Sturgeon already calling for another Independence referendum and Sinn Fein a united Ireland.

 How the Referendum Results can be used in different topics:

Unit 1 Democracy & Participation

The EU referendum can be used in a number of ways. Firstly this can be used in essays regarding direct democracy- the fact that turnout has not been as high since 1992 is evidence that referendums can lead to greater political participation (and that the so called ‘democratic deficit’ is not present within the UK). The engagement of young people is also a stark contrast to the 43% turnout in 2015’s general election of 18-24 year olds.

Alternatively, it could be used to show a key flaw in direct democracy- education. The £350 million a week figure which Leave made a cornerstone of their campaign swayed many voters, even though Nigel Farage admitted this was not true on Friday morning 924th) TV. This is a prime example to argue the virtues of Representative democracy- whilst 544 of the 650 MPs voted remain, the public voted leave, with many claiming that this decision was too complex for the electorate to simply decide upon.

Furthermore this Referendum can be used for just about every positive and negative aspect of referendums if argued correctly. Just tailor the examples to suit you!

  •  Positives of referenda; increase direct democracy; enhance legitimacy of Parliament; curb executive power; settle government disputes (do they?!)
  • Negatives of referenda; Undermine representative democracy; can be manipulated by the government; too complex for a yes/no issue; expensive

Unit 1 Political Parties

The EU Referendum could not have been a more polarising issue for UK Politics and has created enormous upheaval.

Conservative Party – The cause of and certainly the most fractured from this ordeal. Cameron resigning as PM on Friday morning in the wake of his loss has divided the Tories more than ever. Cabinet currently has no collective responsibility or grip on the issue, and the party is split between right-wing MPs championing Boris Johnson for PM and those who favour other figures such as Theresa May. In questions concerning how divided are the Conservatives, the case would have to be argued that Europe has decimated Cameron’s ability to control his party, to the extent that come October he wont be PM!

This is anyone’s call at the moment, but should a more right leaning cabinet come into power after Cameron this would represent the end of One Nation leadership since 2004 and possibly herald a return of Thatcherism (crikey).

Labour Party – Europe has also appeared to divide the Labour Party. Two MPs, Margaret Hodge & Ann Coffey, have called for a vote of no confidence on Jeremy Corbyn which another 4 MPs have already backed. The vote comes from criticism of Corbyn’s ‘lack of leadership’ during the referendum, and if Jezza C is to be replaced this could well be the end to Labours brief left wing leadership.

Sadiq Khan- It is interesting to note that new Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called to have a seat at the table for UK/EU negotiations. As the major economic hub of the UK, London, voted 60% remain, and so Khan wants negotiations that will favour London. If this was secured it would be a major rise in the political power of mayoral positions, which previously were restricted to smaller issues such as Public Transport.

UKIP – Though not part of the Official Leave campaign, Farage has been a key figure in Brexit campaigns. Love or loathe him, the referendum results signal a huge show of support to the party who’s name is Independence. Though you may think this result renders UKIP useless, this is (sadly) just the start of an empowered UKIP party which will continue to have a loud voice in Politics as EU negotiations go on. What is extremely interesting to note is that it appears the old core labour voters- working class male whites- have gravitated to UKIP ideals during the referendum. This could impact upon a Labour Party who’s world was already rocked after their Scottish support was decimated by the SNP. Additionally, Tim Farron’s Lib Dems appear to be no where, though they could well have gained some more support with passionate campaigning.

SNP – The SNP now have an even bigger Scottish mandate in Westminster, the fact that Scotland voted 60% remain means that Sturgeon can now be a thorn in the side to whatever Brexit leadership comes about. With infighting rife among Labour the SNP could become the Tory governments most prominent opposition in the House, which is evidence for how the Two-Party system of England is changing dramatically.

Unit 1 Pressure Groups

Throughout the run-up to the referendum, the lines between Party and Pressure Group have been increasingly blurred. The official Leave Campaign acted as a Pressure Group in the fact that it had no affiliation to one Political Party and the narrow aim of winning the referendum, yet now Eurosceptic MPs are arguing that the new PM must be a Brexit leader, fascinating!

The campaigning Groups have also empowered Pressure Groups through their Politicisation. The results of the referendum mean that the Leave Campaign has enormous gravitas to choose who becomes leader of the country, which is surely a show direct power.

Unit 1 Electoral Systems

The Referendum has turned the tables on the UK’s two-party system. Labour and the Conservatives have become torn apart over Europe whereas UKIP and SNP have seen a rise in unity and support. For students talking about Two and a half Party systems, the rise in power of either party can be used as evidence for how Westminster has created strong Third Parties.

Unit 2 Constitution

First and foremost, the EU negotiations to come show the flexibility of an unmodified constitution, which will easily create new laws to deal with Brexit.

More significantly, the EU referendum will change the location of sovereignty and should give full control to Parliament (at least that’s the claim). Though Parliament has remained sovereign throughout EU integration and always had the power to take back its power from the EU, cases such as Factortame in 1990 declared that EU law would take precedent over UK law. This will no longer be the case- subsequently this could either restore Parliamentary sovereignty OR grant more power to a dominant executive, who would have virtually no opposition.

Unit 2 Parliament

Parliament is sovereign! Make no mistake about it, the referendum has given the government a mandate to break from the EU, something which seemed very unlikely. The referendum could be evidence of how Backbench MPs can be effective. During the campaigning previously nondescript MPs gained the power to challenge Cameron. Harking back to January 2013 when 80 Tory MPs signed a letter urging David Cameron to give the EU referendum, they have ultimately been his downfall! As mentioned above, the break from the EU could well signal a rise in executive dominance and in the future could serve as a reason for an elected House of Lords. The fact that there will be no EU law to challenge the PM would mean Westminster requires a stronger second chamber to make the executive accountable. A Codified constitution spring to mind…

Unit 2 PM & Cabinet

Cameron’s Executive power has been well and truly stuffed due to the referendum, which almost acted as a de facto vote of no confidence. Gone are the days when students have to speak of Major or Callaghan for weak Prime Ministers, just use Cameron! The PM who resided over ‘the most rebellious Parliament since WWII’ has had to resign (indeed he’s the third Tory leader to fall due to Europe). The referendum result may also signal the end of Osbourne’s power, who’s “punishment budget” threat earlier in the week totally backfired. The suspension of CMR, warring with Boris Johnson and ultimate resignation have shown how given the circumstance of the EU referendum, Cameron’s power over his executive was minuscule.

Ultimately the EU referendum has shown how weak a Prime Ministers position is in circumstances such as these, and how Parliament is ultimately sovereign (especially when trying to lead with such a small working majority). For those writing essays on whether the PM is a President or not, the  distinction could be made that whereas a President has a directly elected mandate, Cameron’s indirectly elected leadership came to an end when he lost his mandate to the public.

Unit 2 Judiciary & Civil Liberties

The end of EU law? Who knows!?

For previous students EU law and the HRA went hand-in-hand for the judiciary topic. The up and coming break from the EU would presumably render EU law (that coming from Brussels and the ECJ) useless. Therefore cases such as Factortame which established a dominance of EU law over UK law are in the future defunct. This undermines the ability of the Supreme Court to declare laws incompatible with EU laws, and makes their power over the executive even weaker.

The UK’s membership of the HRA is at the moment still in tact, however the break from the EU may well pave the way for a Conservative ‘British Bill of Rights’ which would take the UK out of the HRA.

As far as security laws go, there is as yet no information. The ever present disputes between Home Secretaries and Judges over things like the EU Arrest Warrant could come to an end in negotiations, but we will all have to wait and see.

Final Thoughts…

Once again, huge thanks to Ethan for this excellent post… One thing we all can agree on is that this momentous referendum result is going to run through A Level Government & Politics like a name through a stick of rock for some while to come… So get reading!!

One final addition to Ethan’s post I’m adding is this link – a definitive guide to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty 2009 (the mechanism for member states to leave the EU), should it be invoked by the UK government: