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July 13, 2016updated 04 Apr 2017 3:57pm

Parliament to debate second referendum after online petition pressure; will new government respond?

An online petition calling for a second UK referendum on EU membership has been put forward as a subject for debate in the House of Commons on 5 September by the Petitions Committee, due to a “huge number of people” having signed it. Anna Milne reports

By Anna Milne

An online petition calling for a second UK referendum on EU membership has been put forward as a subject for debate in the House of Commons on 5 September by the Petitions Committee, due to a “huge number of people” having signed it. Anna Milne reports

This announcement comes after the government responded five days previously, on 8 July, by saying the European Union Referendum Act had been scrutinised, debated and agreed during its passage and the rules could not be changed retrospectively.

“The Prime Minister and Government have been clear that this was a once in a generation vote and, as the Prime Minister has said, the decision must be respected. We must now prepare for the process to exit the EU and the Government is committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for the British people in the negotiations,” the government statement said.

The petitions committee explained the debate itself would not end with the House of Commons deciding whether or not to have a second referendum but it would be possible to create new legislation on the back of it.

“It will be up to the Government to decide whether it wants to start the process of agreeing a new law for a second referendum”, the committee statement revealed.

The committee emphasised that it is simply responding in the way it should, and the decision to put the subject forward for debate does not reflect its support one way or the other of having a second referendum.

It is an opportunity for MPs “to put forward a range of views on behalf of their constituents”, it stated.

The petition, originally set up by a Leave campaigner in fear of losing, called for the rules on the EU referendum to reject the vote if there was a majority of less than 60% based on a turnout of less than 75%.

Shocked and upset Remain voters appropriated the petition when the result of the referendum on 23 June was a vote to leave with a 52% to 48% majority. The petition was signed by over 4.1 million people, the most ever on the parliamentary website.

Petitions that receive more than 100,000 votes are considered for debate in Parliament. Signatures to the tune of 77,000 were discounted after a fraud team investigated suspicious monikers from unlikely locations. 

The debate will take place at 16.30 in Westminster Hall, the second debating chamber of the House of Commons and will be opened by Ian Blackford MP.

Incoming UK leader Theresa May has already stipulated she will honour the referendum result and negotiate a Brexit deal, meaning such a debate may be given short shrift by herself and senior ministers. However, for those of us hoping May is quietly contemplating loopholes to backtrack on Brexit, such news comes a welcome tonic.

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