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Political Constitutionalism and Referendums: The Case of Brexit

Bellamy, Richard; (2023) Political Constitutionalism and Referendums: The Case of Brexit. In: Fossum, John and Lord, Christopher, (eds.) Handbook on the European Union and Brexit. (pp. 486-503). Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham, UK. Green open access

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Abstract

he UK's political constitution rests on the checking and balancing operations of a representative system in which parliament is sovereign. By contrast, referendums are often considered instances of popular sovereignty. Critics condemn them as populist appeals to a singular will of the people that risk majority tyranny, supporters believe they allow citizens to check and balance the elitism of politicians. Such arguments lay behind the criticism and praise of the Brexit referendum. This article argues that while the criticism is justified when referendums form an alternative to representative democracy, they can usefully supplement such a system provided they are embedded within and constrained by it. So conceived, the Brexit referendum can be regarded as consistent with political constitutionalism. Yet, this conception challenges claims that it represented the sovereign will of the people. The result remained subject to ratification by a sovereign parliament and could be legitimately overturned by that body.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Political Constitutionalism and Referendums: The Case of Brexit
ISBN: 1839100680
ISBN-13: 9781839100680
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.4337/9781839100697.00041
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.4337/9781839100697.00041
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.
Keywords: Political constitutionalism; Referendums; Populism; Representative democracy; Brexit; Checks and balance
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Political Science
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10163958
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