With the EU referendum now only days away, here's some key information in terms of how the vote works, when we can expect a result, and what happens in the immediate aftermath...
Polling stations will be open on Thursday 23rd June from 07:00 to 22:00. Voters will be asked “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” The count will take place overnight at all locations. The result will be determined by a straight majority, no minimum turnout is needed.
Results will be declared as soon as they are known by the 382 local counting officers (380 council areas in Great Britain plus one area for Northern Ireland and one for Gibraltar). The counts in Scotland will be conducted by the 32 local authorities. The battle to be first to declare will likely be contested between Sunderland, Foyle in Northern Ireland and Wandsworth in London. Cheshire East, Harborough and Waveney on the other hand have estimated it will be 07:00 before they have a verified result. Around three quarters of the 382 local centres are expected to have declared results by 04:00.
11 regional counts will act as the base for the Regional Counting Officer to collate and announce the final result for the region. No ballot papers are physically counted at regional count hubs and there is no provision for a region-wide recount to be undertaken. In Scotland, the host local authority for the regional result is Falkirk. Each regional result will only be declared once all the local results in the region have been declared and collated. Regional and national running totals will be available but the official result will only be declared by the Chief Counting Officer once all regional totals have been approved and declared.
Once all regional results have been approved and declared, the Chief Counting Officer will declare the final UK and Gibraltar total. This will be the official final result and there is no provision for a national recount.
The Electoral Commission has estimated the final result will be known on Friday 24th June at around 06:00. The final nationwide result will be announced in Manchester Town Hall.
Once declared, the national result is final although not legally binding. The European Referendum Act 2015 does not include provisions to implement the result of the referendum. However, it would be very unlikely for the Government to ignore the outcome. While technically MPs could block an EU exit this is also an unlikely prospect. A possible scenario for overturning the result would be if a General Election was forced and the winning party had campaigned on a promise to remain in the EU and argued the election mandate overruled the referendum result. Two thirds of MPs would need to vote for a General Election to take place before 2020.
What happens if voters back Leave?
The Prime Minister has said he will trigger Article 50, the formal mechanism for leaving the EU, which would begin a two-year negotiation period for ceasing membership. It has been suggested Parliament could unilaterally rescind legislation and Article 50 would not necessarily be required, removing the set time frame, though others have argued it could take longer than two years to separate. In either event, the process for leaving the EU would begin immediately. During the time of negotiating exit, the UK would continue to abide by EU treaties and laws but would not take part in any decision-making.
What happens if voters back Remain?
The outcomes of the agreement reached with the EU by David Cameron on changes to UK membership would take effect immediately, including key changes on child benefit payments for migrant workers and migrant welfare payments, assurance of non-discrimination against the UK for having its own currency, safeguards for the financial services industry regarding Eurozone regulations, a commitment that the UK is not part of a move to “ever closer union” incorporated in an EU treaty change, and a system allowing national parliaments to band together to block unwanted legislation.
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