What is a referendum? When was the last referendum? A history


What is a referendum? 

A referendum is a public vote in order to decide a political question, for example whether the UK should remain part of the EU. 

The UK government has held 12 referendums in total, but only two of these referendums have been UK-wide votes. 

The upcoming vote on EU membership will be the third UK-wide referendum in history.

When was the last UK-wide referendum? 

The last nationwide referendum was held on whether to change Britain”s electoral system in 2011. 

The electorate voted overwhelming to reject changing the way that MPs are elected to the House of Commons. 

The result was a blow to the Liberal Democrats who wanted to get rid of the UK”s first-past-the-post electoral system.

More than 19 million people voted in the referendum – a turnout of 41%.  

When was the first UK-wide referendum? 

The first nationwide referendum was on whether the UK should continue its membership of Europe in 1975. 

Most people in Britain voted to remain part of what was then called the European Economic Community (EEC). 

A majority of two-to-one voted in favour of staying part of the Common Market, which the UK entered in 1973. 

The turnout was 65%. 

Why are UK-wide referendums rare? 

Referendums across the entire country are rare due to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.

Sovereignty makes parliament the UK”s supreme legal authority, which can make laws concerning anything. 

Who can vote in a referendum? 

British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens who live in the UK, or have lived abroad for under 15 years, can vote in the EU referendum this summer. 

As with other elections, only people aged 18 and over will be allowed to cast their votes in the nationwide referendum.

But unlike the general election, members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar are also eligible to vote.