Second EU referendum legally possible, politically improbable

Hayley Kirton
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Pre-Europe Demonstrators March In Bristol
There's no legal reason why we couldn't vote again but, politically, it's a long shot (Source: Getty)

Remainers (or Leavers having second thoughts) hoping for another punt at the EU membership vote might want to cover their ears now – the legal eagles have some bad news for you.

A second referendum is legally possible, but politically, highly unlikely, lawyers have reminded people ahead of this afternoon's parliamentary debate.

The debate, which will take place at 4:30pm in Westminster Hall, is in response to a petition calling on government to "implement a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60 per cent based a turnout less than 75 per cent there should be another referendum".

The petition secured more than 4m signatures and proved so popular at one stage on 24 June that it brought down the parliamentary petition website it was hosted on.

Read more: Britain would have left the EU even if it had voted Remain

"Attempts to ignore the result of the referendum appear to be a political impossibility; but there is certainly no constitutional or legal impediment to a second referendum," said Andrew Eaton, associate on Hogan Lovells' UK and EU public law and policy team.

For anybody wishing for a repeat of referendum excitement, Eaton did offer a glimmer of hope: "It may also be the case that – in the future – the current, political opposition to a second referendum will subside, and a second referendum may seem more politically palatable."

Speaking to City A.M. the day the Leave vote was revealed, Sir Paul Jenkins, a barrister at Matrix Chambers and former government chief legal official, commented he thought "politically [the result] would be impossible to ignore it", adding: "it's not legally binding but it is politically hugely important".

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Even if there was a second referendum, it wouldn't happen overnight. Eaton pointed out the legislation allowing the June referendum could not cover a second try of the same question and new laws would have to be passed.

And Jenkins previously told City A.M.: "You can't just have a referendum plucked out of the air."

Government's response to the petition indicates it's not keen for Brexit vote 2.0 anytime in the near future.

"The Prime Minister and government have been clear that this was a once in a generation vote and, as the Prime Minister has said, the decision must be respected," wrote the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in its reply, published back in the days when David Cameron was still Prime Minister. "We must now prepare for the process to exit the EU and the government is committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for the British people in the negotiations."