I wonder if after the current debate, the UK ends up leaving the EU on any terms, how soon can a future government conduct a referendum to join the EU?

  • 8
    Doing a referendum to join the EU is something completely distinct from actually joining the EU. A referendum is just asking some people what they think about some idea (and is in no way required to join the EU AFAIK) - any rules or laws that may impact this would be specific to the UK and unrelated to the EU (of course it wouldn't make much sense to hold a referendum if they're unable to do the thing they're asking about, but that doesn't mean they can't ask either way). Actually joining the EU would depend mostly on the rules of the EU, but there may also be some laws in the UK about this.
    – NotThatGuy
    Mar 29 '19 at 10:50
  • It is my understanding that in UK, the Parliament reigns supreme. The Parliament can vote now to cancel Brexit, or rejoin EU after Brexit, notwithstanding the existence or the outcome of any referendum. But that will likely to be a career suicide for MPs, so they won't vote so.
    – Siyuan Ren
    Mar 30 '19 at 6:14

They can do it right away if they have the majority vote. However, it will take some time to do so, even if the UK gets fast-tracked. It may help that most standards, laws etc are already in place. Also the UK may not get conditions of membership as good as when they had before leaving, and may be required to participate in the Schengen visa scheme and the Eurozone.

  • 23
    In particular it seems to be likely that the EU would expect the UK to play by the same rules as other new members -- which includes that it would need to commit to joining the Eurozone and the Schengen area. That would probably not be popular with the UK electorate, even if they now seem to be (weakly) minded to remain if possible. Mar 29 '19 at 11:22
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    @HenningMakholm Yeah, if the EU insisted on that, I'd guess the odds of the UK agreeing to it would be somewhere around zero. I can't imagine they're particularly eager to join the Eurozone after seeing all of the sovereign debt crises over the last several years.
    – reirab
    Mar 29 '19 at 16:05
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    @HenningMakholm Joining the Eurozone is in fact optional: No country must actually get the €. See e.g. Poland and Sweden. Mar 30 '19 at 0:33
  • @MartinSchröder: They're officially obliged to join when they meet the "convergence criteria", though it is apparently not difficult to intentionally avoid meeting them. But even that level of obligation could probably be poisonous in the UK political climate. Mar 30 '19 at 0:49
  • 3
    Czech Republic and Poland haven't joined the Euro after 15 years of membership. Romania and Bulgaria haven't joined the Schengen area after 12 years. The rule only exists on paper. Mar 30 '19 at 5:56

Both major parties have put in their 2017 election platforms leaving the EU. So I guess it would take at least a general election and new platforms for them to do that while saving face. (Despite Labour's recent flip flops on the matter of a 2nd referendum.)

As for practical terms: as soon as the government would be confident a poll will give them the result they want.

  • Once the UK has left, a manifesto commitment to leave has been fulfilled. Their manifestoes say nothing about not rejoining.
    – Mike Scott
    Mar 29 '19 at 13:14
  • 7
    This tells us nothing about public opinion, just that both parties are opportunist. Mar 29 '19 at 14:04
  • @SeanHoulihane True, but the question didn't ask about public opinion.
    – reirab
    Mar 29 '19 at 15:59

Since the distinction has become relevant of late, a future government can’t hold a referendum. It needs legislation, which only Parliament can do. A future government can propose legislation for a new referendum to Parliament, and if it has a majority than of course the legislation is highly likely to pass. And that makes it clear that there’s no way this can be prevented from happening, since a fundamental principle of the British constitution is that Parliament cannot bind future Parliaments.

  • There’s a small yet important caveat to this - which is that the convention is that ‘no parliament can irrevocably bind future parliaments’ in practice every parliament binds and lays obligations on future parliaments, in the form of treaties, contracts, trade deals etc. The distinguishing factor is that these are not irrevocably binding and cannot be made so. This is largely due to the sovereign nature of parliament. Mar 30 '19 at 9:13

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