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Brexit: Democratic analysis and criticism

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Brexit: Democratic analysis and criticism

14-06-2016

On 23 June 2016, approximately 50 million eligible citizens will decide whether the United Kingdom is to remain in the EU or to leave the Union. Besides British people residing in the UK, also citizens from the Republic of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus permanently living in the UK as well as British citizens living overseas for less than 15 years are entitled to vote. The popular vote in the UK will be the 45th EU-related referendum in Europe’s history since 1972, and the first one ever on exiting a Member State of the EU.

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The independent organisation Democracy International has analysed from a perspective of democracy policy the way the UK referendum on 23 June was initiated, its legal basis and its consequences for the European Union overall. The three main points of criticism are:

Firstly, there is no clear legal arrangement for what will happen exactly after the decision to leave the EU. In February 2016, David Cameron struck a deal with leaders of the European Union in case of a vote to remain. However, it is not defined what will happen to the UK in case the majority of people decides to leave.

The question posed in the referendum of “remain or leave” is far too general. In contrast, empirical evidence has shown that citizens should be asked referendum questions that are as specific as possible and that can be implemented directly. A useful vote could therefore, be held regarding an exit law that would set out, in advance, a target definition for the future partnership between the EU and the UK.

Secondly, it is highly problematic that Cameron ordered the referendum.
Prime Minister David Cameron had promised the UK referendum on EU membership in case of being re-elected. Doing so, Cameron blended the elements of direct and representative democracy.

From a democratic perspective, however, direct democracy is only compatible with election-based indirect democracy where there is a clear distinction between votes and elections. Only citizens should be able to initiate direct democratic decisions. However, UK’s democratic procedural law does not provide options for initiating legislation and decisions at national level.

Thirdly, a small proportion of the EU population is going to decide on the future of the EU
On 23 June, a small proportion will decide on the future of the EU. What seems reasonable from the sovereign British perspective is certainly not so from the perspective of all EU citizens. Every democracy is subject to the polarising demands of a minority to become autonomous and the enforcement of majority rule. The UK referendum addresses the first demand.

From a European perspective, no thought is given to what kind of European Union all EU citizens want and how they would decide on the future of the EU.
These three points form the abstract of a background paper that Democracy International is supplying with this press release, available for download below.

Democracy International will be present in London to observe the referendum from 21 to 24 June 2016. For interviews or statements, please contact Cora Pfafferott, at 49 176 954 373 79 (GSM), pfafferott@democracy-international.org

 

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