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The European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16 was introduced in the House of Commons on 28 May 2015 and requires the holding of a referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) before the end of 2017. This Paper has been prepared as a guide in advance of the second reading debate on Tuesday 9 June 2015.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced on 23 January 2013 that if the Conservative Party was elected to power following the 2015 general election, it would hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in the next Parliament, framed on an in/out question. The Conservative Party published a draft European Union (Referendum) Bill on 14 May 2013. This provided for a referendum to be held by the end of 2017, with the details of the date and the conduct of the election to be contained in orders to be laid before both Houses. Two Private Members’ Bills based on this draft bill failed to progress through both Houses in the previous Parliament.

The UK has been a member of the EU since 1973. An earlier referendum on membership took place in 1975. Proposals for EU reform, legal issues and alternatives to EU membership are discussed in Briefing Paper 07214, Exiting the EU: UK reform proposals, legal impact and alternatives to membership, 4 June 2015. The likely effects of the UK leaving the EU are considered in Briefing Paper 07213, EU exit: impact in key UK policy areas, 9 June 2015.

The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) provides a regulatory framework for referendums held in the UK. Each referendum still requires primary legislation to set the terms of the question and the franchise to be used, amongst other provisions.

This Bill contains eleven clauses which deal with the question, the franchise and the conduct of the referendum. Three schedules provide further details of the rules governing the campaign and the conduct of the referendum. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to make provisions for the date and the conduct of the poll, through regulations, subject to the affirmative procedure. Prior consultation with the Electoral Commission is required for most regulations concerning the conduct of the poll.

This paper provides details of the provisions in the Bill and includes information about the two European Union (Referendum) Bills that were introduced in the last Parliament. More information on these Bills is provided in Briefing Paper 14/55 European Union (Referendum Bill).

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