IN all the brouhaha of the ongoing Brexit crisis, very few people have pointed out that a second referendum, the so-called people’s vote, is not exceptional in a European context.

Only one entire state, however, has had a referendum about leaving the European Union (EU) or its predecessor body, the European Community (EC), better known back then as the common market. That state is the UK, and it has had two such referendums, in 1975 and 2016.

In case anyone has forgotten, the first and supposedly final referendum saw 67.2% of those who voted indicate they wanted to say in the EC. In 2016, the second and supposedly final referendum saw 51.9% vote to leave the EU – the only time a state has voted to do so.


GREENLAND, then an autonomous nation within Denmark, voted by 53% to 47% to leave in 1982. In 1972, Greenland had also voted against EC membership, but was forced in as Denmark as a whole voted 63.3% to join on a turnout of 90.1% – the second-largest turnout figure for any European-related referendum. Malta’s joining referendum in 2003 recorded a figure of 90.9%.

Only one country has twice rejected the chance to join the EC/EU. Norway voted 53.5% against joining in 1972 on a turnout of 79%. The second membership referendum in Norway in 1984 saw 89% of the electorate voting by 52.2% to 47.8% against joining.

It is also worth noting that France in 1972 held a referendum on whether four nations – the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway – should be allowed to join the EC. The French voted 68.3% in favour – had they not done so, France would have vetoed all of them joining.

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STEP forward Denmark and Ireland. In 1992, Denmark held a referendum on whether the country should accede to the Maastricht Treaty and the result was rejection by 50.7% on a turnout of 83.1%. The Danish government went to the European Summit in Edinburgh in 1992 and squeezed four “opt-out” concessions from of the rest of the EU. With the Danes being told of the disastrous consequences of not accepting the so-called Edinburgh Agreement, a second referendum was held in the country in May, 1993, which saw a change of mind, the Danes voting 56.7% in favour on a turnout of 86.5%.

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In 2001, the Republic of Ireland’s constitution demanded that a referendum needed to be held for the country’s government to approve the Treaty of Nice. To major shock in Ireland and across Europe, the Irish voters rejected the treaty’s incorporation into their constitution by the 24th amendment by 53.9% to 46.1%.

The turnout came in at just 34.8%, and the Irish government then went to the EU and negotiated an opt out, most notably on the common defence policy, and the second referendum on October 12, 2002, approved what was then the 26th amendment to the constitution by 62.9% to 37.1% on a much higher turnout of 49.5%.

Ireland did it again, rejecting the Treaty of Lisbon in 2008, only to approve it the following year on a bigger turnout.


ABSOLUTELY, and the Scottish Six’s successful court case shows that the UK could cancel Brexit. And as the two changes of mind in Ireland show, the key to a successful Remain vote second time around could be a bigger turnout.

The turnout in 2016 was just 72.2% of the total electorate, or 33.5 million votes out of 46.5 million registered voters. If a second referendum was to get a turnout similar to Scotland’s 2014 referendum (84.6%) then more than five million votes could be up for grabs. So even if nobody changes their vote from 2016, there are still plenty of votes to be chased to get a UK change of mind.