What happens if the EU referendum ends in a tie? It’s very unlikely, considering you’d need exactly the same number of votes either side. But it’s not impossible. And the polls have been particularly tight in the final weeks of the campaign.
First, there would not be a national recount, though there could be local recounts (there are 382 counting areas). But if it’s still 50/50 after any local recounts, no one actually knows what would happen. And there is no precedent for this situation.
According to the House of Commons Library, there is “no legal provision for what happens in the event of a dead heat on Friday”. Apparently such a possibility is so unlikely that it “hasn’t been legislated for”.
The Electoral Commission confirms that “nothing in the legislation goes past” the outcome. Whatever the result is – however close it may be, and even if it’s tied – it’s up to our politicians to decide what to do next. It’s an advisory election, rather than a binary one.
So what’s likely to happen? It will be a political decision, and we have little insight into what the government would do in this instance. What we do know is that the Prime Minister would say something, and Parliament would then do or say something depending on his plan. Vague, I know.
In the event of a dead heat, David Cameron (or whoever is Prime Minister by this point – there’s no set timeframe…) would probably make an announcement laying out how he wishes to proceed. There could then be a debate in Parliament to decide what to do next.
It would depend on how the PM chooses to bring their plan before Parliament – a vote wouldn’t be necessary if it was an adjournment debate, for example. Or it could be tabled as a motion, which would mean a vote. Or a ministerial statement, which would allow questions from MPs afterwards, but no vote. The only certainty is that there is no requirement for Parliament to vote in the event of a tied outcome.
This is all pretty speculative though. Read more about how the EU referendum result will be counted and declared in this House of Commons Library briefing.