A really crucial detail about the upcoming EU referendum has gone virtually unmentioned, and it is probably the most crucial detail: Parliament doesn’t actually have to bring Britain out of the EU if the public votes for it.


That is because the result of the June 23 referendum on Britain’s EU membership is not legally binding. Instead, it is merely advisory, and, in theory, could be totally ignored by the UK government.

Leave voters will feel as if they have been deceived by how a Brexit has been sold to them by campaigners.

Peter Catterall of the University of Westminster spoke with Business Insider to shed more light on why Brexiteers would inevitably be very disappointed by what would follow a Leave victory in the referendum.

 ”The (Leave Leaders) haven’t been honest with their supporters about what they actually can and cannot deliver,” Catterall said. “They’ve willfully misled them.”


One of the major arguments pro-Brexit campaigners cite for taking the country out of the EU is that doing so will enhance national democracy. This is because a British Parliament outside the EU would no longer have to adhere to the regulations imposed by EU law.

For the government to arrange a complete post-Brexit deal by 2018 it would have to employ some of the most undemocratic parliamentary apparatus available to it.

“The great irony with a Brexit is that once Article 50 is triggered you’ve only got two years to sort this out and the chances are that you will have to use what we call Henry the Eighth clauses to drive through legislation.”

Henry VIII clauses refer to clauses that allow primary legislation to be amended and repealed without permission from Parliament.

“You’ve got people calling for a Brexit because they think it will make Britain more democratic, yet it would require less democratic parliamentary procedures to ram through the changes that will be required,” Catterall said.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the notion of Britain fully withdrawing from the EU in the coming years is very unrealistic no matter how the public votes on Thursday.

A vote for Brexit will not be determinative of whether the UK will leave the EU. That potential outcome comes down to the political decisions which then follow before the Article 50 notification. The policy of the government (if not of all of its ministers) is to remain in the EU. The UK government may thereby seek to put off the Article 50 notification, regardless of political pressure and conventional wisdom.

There may already be plans in place to slow things down and to put off any substantive decision until after summer. In turn, those supporting Brexit cannot simply celebrate a vote for leave as a job done — for them the real political work begins in getting the government to make the Article 50 notification as soon as possible with no further preconditions.

All the legislation which gives effect to EU law will still be in place. Nothing as a matter of law changes in any way just because of a vote to Leave. What will make all the legal difference is not a decision to leave by UK voters in a non-binding advisory vote, but the decision of the prime minister on making any Article 50 notification.

Maybe Parliament can decree a second referendum on whether to invoke Article 50 can be an easy solution out of this mess?