How Referendums Challenge European Democracy: Brexit and Beyond

Research output: Book/ReportBook


To understand the challenges facing European democracy today we need to think in three-dimensional terms. It is necessary to understand how and why referendums challenge conventional ideas of parliamentary democracy; how and why the European Union has a democratic deficit that cannot be reformed; and how and why people who are both national and European citizens cast national votes that Brussels policymakers do not like but cannot ignore.
The expansion of the EU’s impact on national politics reflects national governments deciding that problems of the economy, immigration, climate change and much else are best dealt with collectively at the EU level, because their causes cross national and continental boundaries. When EU actions have unpopular consequences that are visible nationally, prime ministers are pulled two ways. They are accountable to their national electorate but also committed to EU decisions that they have approved when participating in policymaking in Brussels.
The United Kingdom is an object lesson that is no less valuable for illustrating how not to balance pressures of a national electorate and EU treaty obligations. Like his predecessors, David Cameron was only half-hearted in efforts to convince the British people of the desirability of EU membership, The consequence was Brexit, the 2016 referendum majority for Britain leaving the EU. On becoming prime minister Boris Johnson quickly won a general election that gave him the power to confirm Britain’s EU withdrawal. Beyond Brexit Britain is being tested to advance its policies by going it alone in a world of interdependence. Simultaneously, the EU is being tested to achieve collective policies for the peoples of the European continent by pressures from across Mediterranean, the Near and Far East, and Washington.
Original languageEnglish
Place of Publication[S.I.]
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd.
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-44116-6
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2020


  • referendums europeanunion brexit elections
  • prime minister
  • elections to the European Parliament


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