Are there any examples from modern times of the result of a UK election, referendum, etc., not being implemented, or the question being put a second time (perhaps in modified form) before the first result was implemented? (Whether or not that second vote went the same way.)

Not including things like a by-election because the elected MP died before taking office or similar "acts of God" as insurance contracts used to put it, and not including hung Parliaments.

I mean things like: There was a substantial delay, and/or significant implementation issues, and/or there was a change of government, and the result was either just never implemented or eventually the government brought the question or a very similar question again (whether or not that subsequent vote went the same way).

Here's an example that would be what I'm looking for except for one thing: In 1978 the UK government passed the Scotland Act which would devolve some powers from Westminster to a Scottish Assembly if a referendum passed. The 1979 Scottish Devolution Referendum was held and the result was 51.6% "yes" to 48% "no" — but the Act wasn't implemented. It wasn't until 1997, after another referendum and another Act of Parliament that the Scottish Parliament and Executive were created.

Why isn't that what I'm looking for? Because I left out a bit: The 1978 Act included a provision (an amendment) that not only did a majority of those voting have to vote "yes," but those voting "yes" had to be 40% or more of the total electorate. This requirement was known prior to the referendum. Turnout was 64%, so the "yes" vote was 32.9% of the total electorate, short of the Act's required 40%, and so the result wasn't implemented. (Famously, there were issues with the electoral register [dead people still listed, etc.], but that's not relevant here.) If it weren't for that 40% amendment, it would be exactly what I'm talking about, but the 40% amendment was known beforehand, so it isn't.

(Yes, the inspiration for the question is Brexit and calls for a People's Vote / confirmatory referendum / etc., but Brexit is not the topic. The topic is results that were not implemented [or not prior to the question being put again].)

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    Would you count the two general elections of 1974?
    – Joe C
    Oct 20, 2019 at 12:06
  • @JoeC - Blast, at one point I had text ruling out hung parliaments but I appear to have removed it prior to posting. I'll fix that, sorry, and thanks for bringing it up. Oct 20, 2019 at 12:10
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    "To date only three referendums have been held which have covered the whole of the United Kingdom." Also what is your criterion for an election result not being implemented? Sinn Fein don't take their seats in Westminster for example. Stormont is in its 3rd year of not sitting due to deadlock etc. Oct 20, 2019 at 12:23
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    Even counting the regional ones, there aren't that many referendums in the UK. The first was held in 1973 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:UK_Referendums If we get to the local ones it's probably going to be hard to even get a list. Oct 20, 2019 at 12:36
  • @Fizz - I didn't realize they were quite that rare. Looks like if you include referenda in constituent countries (rather than the UK as a whole), there have been only a total of 13. Sinn Fein not taking their seats doesn't feel like the same thing to me. Stormont is an interesting question but I think it was implemented, it's just that since then, it's been suspended because the parties can't agree to power sharing under the terms of the GFA. Oct 20, 2019 at 12:43

5 Answers 5



Although you discount it in comments, I think both 2003 and 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly elections meet your definition:

  • The purpose of the vote was to establish the make-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive
  • The vote was carried out successfully, with the expected result that a coalition would be formed.
  • The Assembly did not convene, because the required power-sharing between Unionist and Republican parties could not be agreed.
  • As such, the Members elected by the vote never took office.

The 2002 suspension was not resolved until after the 2007 election, so the 2003 result could be said to have been "implemented after the question was put a second time".

Right now, there appears to be no progress towards implementing the 2017 result, and it's reasonably likely that a further election will again be held before the Assembly resumes.


Regarding referendums at at least regional level, it's pretty easy to find out exhaustively, because there have been so few. According to the list on Wikipedia, there were:

  • 5 where the result was "no", so no implementation was needed.
  • 1 where the majority was "yes", but a required threshold was not met, so no implementation was needed.
  • 4 where the result was "yes", and implemented by subsequent Act of Parliament.
  • 1 where the result was "yes", and the implementation was to retain the status quo.
  • 1 where the result was "yes", and the implementation was to activate measures which had already been enacted.
  • 1 where the result was "yes", and the implementation is still in progress.

None appear to meet your criteria.


  1. Question: "Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?" Result was "Yes", and implemented by the UK staying in the EC.
  2. Question: "At present, the UK uses the "first past the post" system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the "alternative vote" system be used instead?" Result was "No", so no changes were implemented.
  3. Question: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?" Result was "Leave", implementation is still in progress.


  • 1998 Greater London Authority referendum, on whether there should be a Greater London Authority, consisting of a Mayor of London and a London Assembly. Result "Yes", implemented by Act of Parliament the following year.
  • 2004 North East England devolution referendum, on an elected regional assembly. Result "no", so no implementation needed.

Northern Ireland

  • 1973 Northern Ireland sovereignty referendum, on whether Northern Ireland should leave the United Kingdom (UK) and join the Republic of Ireland. Result was "no", so no implementation needed.
  • 1998 Northern Ireland Belfast Agreement referendum, on the Good Friday Agreement. Result "yes", implemented by Act of Parliament within a few months.


  • 1979 Scottish devolution referendum, on whether there should be a Scottish Assembly. Result was "yes", but fell short of a pre-defined threshold, so no implementation needed.
  • 1997 Scottish devolution referendum, Two questions: On whether there should be a Scottish Parliament; On whether a Scottish Parliament should have tax varying powers. Result was "yes" to both questions, implemented by Act or Parliament about a year later.
  • 2014 Scottish independence referendum on the question "Should Scotland be an independent country?" Result was "no", so no implementation needed.


  • 1979 Welsh devolution referendum, on whether there should be a Welsh Assembly. Result was "no", so no implementation needed.
  • 1997 Welsh devolution referendum, on whether there should be a National Assembly for Wales. Result was "yes", implemented by Act of Parliament the following year.
  • 2011 Welsh devolution referendum, on whether the National Assembly should have increased law-making powers. Result was "yes", bringing into force an already agreed implementation.
  • I think your 2003 example may well fit all the criteria. Can you expand on it a bit for those not all that familiar with it? Oct 21, 2019 at 14:12
  • @T.J.Crowder I didn't specifically decline the edit, it got overwritten because I was editing at the same time. I've added a summary to the summary. As for the NI examples, both are basically the same thing (the Assembly remains suspended until an agreement is reached) and I'm not sure what else there is to say.
    – IMSoP
    Oct 21, 2019 at 14:17
  • Yeah, I figured it was something like that. :-) (The edit.) So basically: The people voted for an assembly, but it couldn't be convened because the parties wouldn't agree how to make it happen? Oct 21, 2019 at 14:25
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    @T.J.Crowder Yep. The members are constitutionally required to form a coalition within certain parameters, and until they do so, the Assembly is suspended.
    – IMSoP
    Oct 21, 2019 at 14:42

Yes. Almost every general election in modern times included issues that were never implemented. In what is perhaps the best parallel example as an issue strongly connected to Brexit.

Drop the Target: Sajid Javid confirms commitment to reduce net migration to 'tens of thousands' ditched from post-Brexit plan

Interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Javid denied the government was abandoning commitments in the Conservative manifesto to cut immigration – the tens of thousands target has appeared in every one since 2010.

This is an important one, as successive governments have blamed being in the EU for failing to meet it and it is being dropped from a 'post Brexit plan'. And it is an issue entirely within the Government's gift, unlike economic targets for example which can be attributed to global issues outside their control.


This is somewhat pushing the definition of "modern times", but since no date range was specified I'll mention it.

At the end of 1905 there were two by-elections in Barkston-Ash and The New Forest, won by the Liberal Joseph Andrews and Conservative Henry Francis Compton respectively. However, parliament was not in session at the time and before it came back the 1906 general election was called. Both candidates lost their seats in this election before ever taking them.


It depends what counts as a referendum, i.e. at what level. There was a prior local referendum on EU membership in 2007.

In September 2007, villagers in East Stoke in Dorset forced a referendum, under the Local Government Act 1972, on this question: "Do You Want a Referendum on the EU Constitutional Treaty? Yes or No?" Of the 339 people who were eligible to vote, 80 voted: 72 votes for Yes and 8 votes for No. The poll was initiated by a supporter of the United Kingdom Independence Party, a political party noted for its Euroscepticism. The poll was criticised by the chairman of the parish council as "little more than a publicity stunt."[25][26]

  • I meant at the UK or constituent country level, but I didn't say that, so... :-) Oct 20, 2019 at 12:44

So within the narrow terms of the question the answer seems to be "no".

It is then worth dealing with the question of why Brexit is different, and the answer is that it is neither self implementing (the law providing for it did not specify anything that should happen as a result; it was called "advisory" at the time), nor implementable without obvious disaster. The question was badly under specified.

The subsequent hung Parliament from 2017 simply made the situation worse.

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