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Home > The Lisbon Treaty > Ratification Stage > United Kingdom
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1975: EC Membership (67,23 % Yes. 64,03 Turnout)


CONSTITUTIONAL CONDITIONS - European Communities Act 1972

Binding referendum requires a legal implementation as a part of the ratification-process. Consultative referendum can anyhow be held if ordered by ad-hoc-law (UK has no written constitution).


When the UK joined the Community, accession was preceded by the passing of the European Communities Act 1972 which made the Treaty and the law deriving from it applicable within the UK. Changes of the European treaties that implicate constitutional changes for the UK like the Maastricht Treaty are implemented by amending the European Communities Act 1972.

Treaties are ratified by the Foreign Secretary, acting on the residual authority of the Crown (Royal Prerogative). Parliament has no formal role in treaty-making. Since the 1920’s there has been a constitutional practice called “the Ponsonby Rule” which requires that all treaties subject to ratification be laid before parliament for information and debate. Under British constitutional practice, the passage of the implementing legislation is not formally part of ratification, but it must precede ratification.



Eurobarometer (2006), The Future of Europe - Results for the United Kingdom, Special Eurobarometer 251, Fieldwork: 23/02 – 15/03 2006. (PDF)

  • On 24.09.2007 UK prime minister Gordon Brown said that holding a referendum on the new EU treaty is not needed. "If we needed a referendum we would have one. But I think most people recognise that there is not a fundamental change taking place as a result of this amended treaty", Mr Brown told BBC television.
    After London secured opt-outs in key areas such as justice and home affairs and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the PM judged the treaty sufficiently different from the original constitution that it could be ratified by parliament.
  • During summer 2007 UK prime minister Gordon Brown was being pushed further into a corner over the EU's new treaty, as three major parties – conservatives, labour and liberal democrats – were set to kick off a united campaign dubbed "I want a referendum". EUobserver.com
  • On 14.09.07 Le Figaro noted an ICM poll showing that 80% of Labour voters and 80% of all British people wanted a referendum.
  • In Scotland, the Scottish Government has suggested it may hold a consultative referendum on the treaty; it is unclear whether such a referendum is intended to have any legal effect or not, since, as foreign policy falls out with the competence of the Scottish Parliament.
  • On 05.03.2008 The UK's parliament has rejected a call for referendum on the new EU's Lisbon treaty, a move representing a victory for Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown which has argued in the face of bitter opposition that there should not be a public poll. The House of Commons voted against the proposal for a popular vote by 311 votes to 248, with a margin of 63. Britain is now expected to ratify the treaty in parliament by summer.
  • On 11.03.2008 the British House of Commons passed the bill that will ratify the EU treaty. The bill received 346 votes in favour and 206 against, following around six weeks of bitter debate in one of the Union's most eurosceptic countries. It will now move to the House of Lords for a vote. The Commons' vote comes after a failed attempt last week by the opposition Conservatives to win a referendum on the treaty.
    "The central question is whether or not this is a good treaty for the UK and good for Europe," Foreign Secretary David Miliband said during the debate. "The government and every mainstream political party in Europe believe the answer is yes," he added. "Yes because the reforms make sense, yes because the foundations of the EU developed since 1958 are reformed by the treaty and yes because the reforms allow us to move on to the agenda of prosperity and development and climate change that we all agree are the essence of the EU's role." Conservative Party foreign affairs spokesman William Hague said the government's plans to pass the bill without a referendum were in "clear breach" of promises made in the 2005 general election.


UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown (2007), statement on the European Council in Lisbon, House of Commons, 22.10.2007. (HTML)

British Foreign Secretary (2007), UK position on a treaty to reform the European Union's institutions, House of Commons, 20.06.2007. (HTML)



vote in the national parliament



The parliamentary ratification was held on the 11.03.2008 in the House of Commons: 346 votes in favour, 206 against; and on the 18.06.2008 in the House of Lords (by an undetailed oral vote).



House of Commons (2008), European Union (Amendment) Bill, Commons debates and votes on third reading, 11.03.2008. (HTML)

House of Commons (2008), The Treaty of Lisbon: amendments to the Treaty on European
, research paper 08/09, 24.01.2008. (PDF)

House of Commons, Foreign Affairs Committee (2008), Foreign Policy Aspects of the Lisbon Treaty, Report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence, 20.01.2008 (PDF)

House of Commons (2008) Debate on the European Union (Amendment) Bill, 05.03.2008. (HTML)

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2007), Global Europe - Meeting the Economic and Security Challenges, October 2007. (PDF)

Brady, H.; Grant,C. (2007), Why treaty change matters for business and for Britain, CER, policy brief, May 2007. (PDF)

Corbett, R. (2007), Britain and the Constitutional Treaty, EUobserver.com, Comment,
16.04.2007. (HTML)

Grant, C. (2007), Britain and the EU: A Crisis Looms, CER Bulletin, Issue 53, April/May 2007. (HTML)


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Doctorado en Unión Europea