Bucks academic warns result of EU referendum is not legally binding

Dr Lars Mosesson, Bucks New University
Dr Lars Mosesson, Bucks New University
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An academic has said that there is no legal obligation for the result of the EU referendum to be implemented following the vote, which is due to be held on 23 June.

Dr Lars Mosesson, from the Department of Law at Bucks New University, explored how the EU referendum would work and the multiple and unintended consequences it could have on the UK constitution, whatever the result, during a recent public lecture.

Explaining some of the possible complications, he said: “Because our political constitution has no documentary constitution, the consequences are hard to predict and most are unlikely to have been intended.

“If the UK votes to leave the European Union on 23 June, the result may not necessarily be implemented as there are a number of legal and political issues that could prevent this. The European Union Referendum Act 2015 only provides for holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU: it does not provide that the government is legally obliged to take action on whatever the public decides.”

Dr Mosesson commented that, should the public vote to leave, the government could decide not to begin the formal process.

He also said that it was possible for the House of Commons, the House of Lords or the Queen to decide not to approve the legislation that would be needed, adding: “If the Queen decided to withhold royal assent, it would be the first time the Monarch has exercised this right since Queen Anne did so for the Scottish Militia Bill in 1707.”

During the lecture, Dr Mosesson explained that if an exit was approved by the UK, the decision would then be subject to EU law.

He added: “Although the matter is now covered by treaty law, it is arguable that any state’s leaving would still be subject to the agreement of the remaining 27 member states.

“There is also the question of how long it would take to negotiate the leaving. When Greenland, as a semi-independent part of Denmark, decided to leave the European Communities (EC) following its referendum in 1982 shortly after Denmark joined, all member states were in agreement, but it still took three years.”

“This raises the question of how long it would take for the UK to leave and of what would happen if the UK government changed before the negotiations to leave were complete, particularly if the new government was in favour of the UK remaining in the EU.”

Dr Mosesson has been teaching and writing on constitutional law and human rights for more than 40 years in England, mainland Europe and the USA.

The lecture, which was free and open to the public, was held at the University’s High Wycombe Campus and was chaired by the Pro Vice-Chancellor - Education at Bucks New University, Sean Mackney.