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Direct Democracy and Brexit

Brexit opponents have suggested that, because referenda have no constitutional status in Britain, and Parliament must make the final decision, the result of the June 23 popular vote should be ignored. Are they right?

PRINCETON – What role should referenda play in a democracy? That question has become more relevant than ever, following the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum, which resulted in a 52% to 48% vote to leave the European Union – and brought an abrupt end to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s political career.

Brexit opponents have since suggested that, because referenda have no constitutional status in Britain, and Parliament must make the final decision, the result should be ignored. Are they right?

Independently of what we think about Britain leaving the EU, we can ask two other questions, one general and one specific to Brexit. First, to what extent should the citizens of a democracy be able to make decisions directly, in a referendum, rather than through their elected representatives? And, more specifically, should British legislators consider themselves bound by the outcome of the June 23 referendum?

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