European Union Referendum Bill – Update

This Government Bill provides for a referendum on UK membership of the EU to be held before the end of 2017. At the European Council on 25–26 June the Prime Minister set out his plans for the referendum, and initiated the process whereby the UK Government will seek a number of EU reforms ahead of the referendum. On 28 July the Lords EU Committee published a report analysing the process leading up to the proposed referendum. It is likely to be the first in a series of reports on the referendum process.

The Committee concluded that the Government is right to press for the referendum to be held as soon as possible, in order to minimise uncertainty. It added that it would be highly undesirable to hold the referendum during the UK Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2017 and recommended that the Government should explore alternative arrangements for the Presidency if the referendum is delayed beyond the end of 2016.

The Committee found that there is uncertainty over the specific roles to be played by UK Ministers, as well as how the internal Whitehall process will work. The Prime Minister’s effort to engage with other EU Heads of Government was supported, but the Committee stressed that the Government must ensure that it continues to engage with all 27 other Member States. It emphasised that Parliament should be kept informed of the progress of negotiations and that devolved administrations should be closely involved.

The Committee supported the Government seeking a legally binding agreement on EU reform in the run up to the referendum but called for clarification of the form of such an agreement. The Committee added that the Government’s desire to enhance the role of national parliaments is welcome, but it should explore means by which national parliaments could make a positive, proactive contribution to EU policies and legislation.

The Committee has invited the Government and the European Commission to respond to the report and aims to hold a debate in the autumn.

About the Author

Jef Mitchell is a consultant at BLM and former Chief Claims Officer at the Ministry of Defence where he regularly briefed Ministers on claims issues and risk management. He now helps to lead the firm’s Policy and Government Affairs work with Alistair Kinley preparing submissions and supporting evidence for consultations and reform proposals, in addition to liaising with government departments and regulators on key issues and consultations affecting the firm and its clients. Jef is also an accredited mediator.

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