When will the EU Referendum happen?

I know the exact time for EU Referendum.

The time will be exactly at 0:00 seconds, 0:00 minutes, at 7 o’clock in the morning.

That is when the poling booths will open.

However, I do not know the date. Nobody does. 

As everything about the EU referendum nothing is said or understood, clear or defined. Everything is flexible, including the possible date and how long the campaign will last.

How long we will have for the referendum is crucial for the strategy. Start too early and you will run out of steam. Start to late and you will run out of time.

So what are the options?

Under the European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16 a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union is to be held before the end of 2017. There are provisions in the Bill and in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) that affect the minimum length of time between the announcement of the date of the referendum and the poll.

But what is the ‘minimum length of time’? That is not a rhetorical questions. It has practical campaigning impact.

The date will be set by the Government in regulations under the Bill, subject to the approval by both Houses of Parliament. The Government is free to decide when to bring forward such regulations, but the date of the poll must be at least 28 days after the day on which the ‘lead campaign organisations’ are designated by the Electoral Commission. (Lead campaign organisations are recognised to represent each side of the referendum and are allowed to public subsidies)


So here you are – a minimum of 4 weeks. Snap poll perhaps?

However, there are no legal provisions that prescribe the length of the referendum period, and this period is set under regulations that will be brought forward under the Bill. The Ministers said that there will be a minimum of 10 weeks to campaign.

So is it four weeks or 10 weeks? Or 6 months?

The Electoral Commission report on the Scottish Referendum recommended that ” .. that in planning for any future referendums,…. governments should aim to ensure that legislation is clear at least six months before it …. to be implemented”. In addition the Electoral Commission also states “that for future referendums the detailed rules should be clear at least 28 weeks in advance of polling day, based on a statutory regulated referendum campaign period of 16 weeks”

There are two other issues which will influence the referendum date: purdah and voting of the 16 years old.

The ‘purdah’ rules are currently 28 days when government, ministers and ministries (incl the EU ones) MUST NOT CAMPAIGN. Cameron wants to get rid of them, LEAVE campaign wants to extend them. With the Bill in its current form, it will be four months if the Government decides to modify the purdah rules.

And then there is the inclusion of 16 years old. Legislation is required for that.

Against all that 4 weeks to 6 months guessing game there have been reports in the last week that during the December EU meeting Cameron will declare that the referendum will be in April 2016. If I take an arbitrary Saturday as 18 April 2016, it is exactly 4 months from the time I am writing this. (I am assuming calling it for 1st April would be a joke beyond PM sense of humour)

So we don’t know. Like Scouts we must be prepared whatever the date is.

* George Smid was the Liberal Democrat candidate in South Holland and the Deepings in 2015. He is a member of the East Midlands Regional Executive, the English Council Executive and is a former European candidate

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  • June 2017

    Juncker will announce his two tier EU in the Spring 2017. Cameron will claim that associate membership is the “British Model” and that it is the shiny, new , wonderful reform that he always, ahem, promised. He will not mention that it is the waiting room for Eurozone membership.

  • Little Jackie Paper 9th Dec '15 - 6:26pm

    If the stuff about restricting benefits is agreed, or at least some form of it, then I’d think we might be as little as six months away from the referendum. I’d rate this as unlikely but not totally outlandish.

    Overall my feeling would be September – October 2016. If (and it’s a big if) there is no movement on the benefits question then the IN argument might have to confront a referendum in which the defining issue is benefits for foreigners. That will be tough to sell.

    I really don’t have much idea what we’ll be voting on though. About 18 months ago I could see no result other than a comfortable IN win, I’m not nearly as sure now.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Dec '15 - 11:43pm

    The risk with any referendum in any country is that the voters do not answer the question asked on the ballot paper.
    The popularity, or otherwise, of the current government can be important. It may be crucial or even decisive.
    DC should know this, but he is also delaying a decision on airports.

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