The referendum of the UK’s EU membership: No legal salve for its disenfranchised non-resident citizens

On Thursday 23rd June 2016, pursuant to the European Union Referendum Act 2015, a UK-wide referendum will be held on the question: ‘should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU’. Hitherto, much of the referendum debate has concerned immigration (to the UK) by EU citizens, exercising their mobility rights, with rather unsavoury rhetoric concerning deportation of criminals and ‘warnings’ about future arrivals from candidate accession states. Alongside immigration, leading campaigners have argued that the referendum is, at heart, a about questions of sovereignty and democracy.

Now, the referendum is, of course, itself an act of democratic self-government: following a ‘Leave’ vote, the UK is expected to ‘notify the European Council’ of its decision to withdraw from the Union, pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union; it will then negotiate the terms of its withdrawal. In his 19th February 2016 statement following the European Council meeting, Prime Minister David Cameron submitted that it is ‘the British people’ who ‘must now decide whether to stay…or leave’. Indeed, the Prime Minister used the phrase ‘the British people’ no less than six times in his speech. Nevertheless, as I have discussed in an earlier post, neither all ‘the British people’ nor only ‘the British people’ are eligible to vote in this ‘once-in-a-generation’ referendum.

Unlike referendums on state dissolution or separation (cue the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, discussed here), neither the territorial integrity of the UK nor membership of its body-polity are on the ballot paper on 23rd June 2016 (though a ‘Brexit’ vote is quite likely to prompt demands in Scotland for a second independence referendum) ...

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