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13 July 2016

Parliament will debate a second EU referendum in September – this is what it means

How likely is it that a second referendum will actually take place? 

By Rosie Collier

On Tuesday, it was announced that a debate on a second EU referendum will take place in Westminster Hall on 5 September. The announcement came in response of a petition, created by William Oliver Healy, that suggested that the Government should hold a second EU referendum  if the remain or leave vote is less than 60 per cent, based on a turnout less than 75 per cent.

All petitions that reach the threshold of 100,000 signatures must be debated by Parliament. And so, given the petition for a second referendum reached a startling 4.1million signatures, it deserves to be debated.

If you voted Remain on 23 June, this could be your first promising news in weeks. The debate offers a potential escape from the horrors of a Brexit Britain – and a voice to the 48 per cent who voted to remain in the EU.

But the hard truth is, just because Parliament has decided to debate the petition, this doesn’t mean anything will come of it.

The Foreign Office officially responded to the petition days before the decision to hold the debate. It stated that there will be no second referendum over Britain’s position in the EU.

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“As the Prime Minister made clear in his statement to the House of Commons on 27 June, the referendum was one of the biggest democratic exercises in British history with over 33 million people having their say. 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. 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.”

Following the announcement of the debate yesterday evening, a spokesman from the House of Commons said: “The Petitions Committee would like to make clear that, in scheduling this debate, they are not supporting the call for a second referendum.” He added: “The debate does not have the power to change the law and will not end with the Commons deciding whether or not to have a second referendum”.

In other words, the debate is futile. It is clear that decisions have already been made and there will be no second EU referendum. 

E-petitions are in theory a fantastic demonstration of direct democracy. But in reality they hold very little power. They are essentially agenda setting, and do not fulfil the role of deciding Government policy.

Parliament doesn’t take e-petitions too seriously. The debate on the second EU referendum will take place in Westminster Hall, the second debating chamber in Parliament. Visitors are welcome to attend. And it’s worth remembering what has been debated in the past. The petition to “Block Donald Trump from UK entry” received 586,933 signatures, resulting in a debate taking place in January. A petition to “Stop allowing immigrants into the UK” reached 216,949 signatures and was debated in October 2015. Since then, Donald Trump has visited and immigrants continue to move here. 

So, while it may provide Remainders with something to lean on through Brexit Britain’s birthing pains, they shouldn’t get their hopes up. A debate in Westminster Hall is not about to trigger a second referendum and scupper the UK’s exit from the EU.


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