Was the 2016 Brexit referendum binding on parliament or the government? Answer: No.
“European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16
- Types of referendum
“This Bill requires a referendum to be held on the question of the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) before the end of 2017. It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The referendums held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1997 and 1998 are examples of this type, where opinion was tested before legislation was introduced. The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented, unlike, for example, the Republic of Ireland, where the circumstances in which a binding referendum should be held are set out in its constitution.” [My emphasis — BLB]
|— House of Commons Briefing Paper number 07212, 3 June 2015
Note: The same point is made emphatically in a Guardian article of June 2016, just before the referendum, at https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/23/eu-referendum-legally-binding-brexit-lisbon-cameron-sovereign-parliament. The fact that David Cameron committed himself (and presumably his party) before the referendum to acting on its result says more about Mr Cameron than about the legal status of the referendum; and in any case within hours of the announcement of the referendum result, Mr Cameron had resigned. His promise is now of purely historic interest, and anyway nothing that he said before or after the referendum could have bound parliament when the referendum itself was not legally binding. It was not “a decision by the British people,” as the Brexiteers, ever casual about the truth, constantly assert. It was an expression of the views of the slim majority of those who voted, demonstrating only that public opinion on the issue was almost evenly divided. Parliament and the government were absolutely free to decide how to proceed in the light of it, and they still are.
A European parliament briefing paper about the implications of Article 50, at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2016/577971/EPRS_BRI(2016)577971_EN.pdf
Is it really too late to stop this lunacy?