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Should we stay or should we go? Democratic Audit welcomes change in EU referendum question

Professor Patrick Dunleavy, co-director of Democratic Audit UK based at LSE, has welcomed the government's decision to accept the Electoral Commission’s wording for the referendum question on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

The referendum, set to take place before the end of 2017, will now ask UK voters if they wish to ‘remain’ in the EU or ‘leave’ the EU, rather than present them with simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ options.

European Union flag

Democratic Audit pushed for the more informative style of question since early discussions of the referendum in 2013, and made representations to the Electoral Commission to this effect.

As Professor Dunleavy argued at the time, “Voters are being asked in a referendum to take an action – so any remotely fair question must focus on the action choice being given, and it should be balanced in mentioning both option choices. This [‘Stay’ or ‘Leave’] question makes clear the actual choice voters face far better than any Yes/No question could do.”

Following the introduction of a government-supported Private Member’s Bill in July 2013, the question was going to be ‘should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?’. The Electoral Commission advised against this, in line with Democratic Audit’s recommendations,  to ensure clarity of information and to avoid any potential bias.

Commenting on the Electoral Commission announcement, Professor Dunleavy said:

"It is very good news for UK democracy that the government has accepted the Electoral Commission's recommended question, and not gone for a Yes/No referendum choice.

At Democratic Audit we have been arguing since 2013 that any European referendum question must make absolutely clear to the voter in the privacy of the polling booth the precise choice they have in front of them.  

This decision means that the two options are now crystal clear to voters. It also means that the campaigns themselves will be much clearer throughout the next political year than 'Yes/No' campaigns would have been.

We hope that in future all UK referenda will follow this approach, making voters' choices straightforwardly evident to them."


More information:

Professor Dunleavy first argued against the potential Yes/ No referendum question in June 2013

Democratic Audit editors echoed this argument when welcoming the Electoral Commission’s initial assessment of the wording of a referendum question

Electoral Commission recommends change to EU referendum question:

Democratic Audit is an independent research organisation, established as a not-for-profit company, and based at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Its core objective is to advance education, and to undertake and promote research into, the quality and effectiveness of UK democracy.