What is the law/rules around if a county (let's say Northumberland) wants to gain independence, whether to join another country (let's say/assume future independent Scotland) or to join the EU as an independent country.

Is there a specific procedure that allows this to happen or is it merely unlawful/not permitted?


1 Answer 1


Not legally, no. Any independence procedure, whether it be through a referendum or simply a grant of independence would have to be agreed on by Parliament.

In the case of Scotland, the competence to hold an independence referendum was granted to the Scottish Parliament by the government through a Section 30 order - referring to the section of the Scotland Act 1998 which allows Westminster to grant powers to the Scottish Parliament either temporarily or permanently.

With respect to Northern Ireland, schedule 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 allows the Secretary of State to hold a referendum on the formation of a united Ireland should it appear likely to him that such a referendum would be successful.

It's clearly within the competence of Parliament, then, to create such a process for an individual county. Under the current law, however, any referendum held by such a locality would be unlawful, and any declaration of independence would be unilateral.

  • 1
    It's not clear that a referendum would be unlawful, although it would have no constitutional significance and would not in itself achieve independence or provide a legal basis for a declaration of independence; it is suggested that at least the Scottish Parliament could hold an advisory referendum without the consent of Westminster.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 10:54
  • @StuartF with respect to local authorities, though, I don't believe they have powers to hold referendums outside those specifically granted by the Local Government Act?
    – CDJB
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 11:03
  • @StuartF it would certaintly be unlawful. It may not be illegal.
    – James K
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 20:43
  • @CDJB Wouldn't holding an advisory referendum be covered by the "general power of competence" in section 1 of the Localism Act 2011? Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 21:54
  • 3
    @spikey_richie The wording of the law uses the masculine pronoun, but yeah, this is similar to politics.stackexchange.com/q/56762/28994
    – CDJB
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 7:45

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