There is precedent for a second EU referendum

European Union

Sir Vince Cable’s Lib Dems advocate a referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal the UK will strike with the EU. But could it really happen? When have the people been made to vote again on EU affairs?

The proposed terms-referendum differs from 2016’s vote as it would ask voters to accept or reject the Brexit deal, rather than ask whether the UK should leave or remain in the EU. However, there have been three significant incidents where EU citizens voted again on EU related matters. While the idea of another vote may seem far out there, it is not unprecedented.

Vince Cable Speech

Ireland and the Lisbon Treaty

In 2008, Ireland voted against approving the Lisbon Treaty in a nation-wide ballot. The BBC reported that the country voted against the Treaty 53.5% - 46.6%.

Then, just over a year later in 2009, the country went back to the polls in another nation-wide referendum. This time, the country backed the Treaty 67.1% - 28.9%, as reported by the BBC.

Why did the country change its mind?

After the first vote, the EU came up with a set of guarantees for Ireland that addressed some of the issues from referendum. The Independent reported that

“At a two-day summit in Brussels, the 27 leaders wrangled over the legal niceties of guarantees that the treaty, which streamlines EU decision-making, would not affect Irish sovereignty on tax, abortion or military neutrality.”

To sum up, concessions were made and Ireland voted in favour of the Treaty.

Ireland and the Treaty of Nice

Why Ireland again? The country's constitution requires that such treaties are amendments to the country’s constitution and must therefore be ratified by a nation-wide plebiscite.

In 2001, Ireland voted against ratifying the Treaty of Nice, which would have allowed for new member states to join the union. Renegotiations followed and the country subsequently voted in favour of ratification in 2002. The BBC reported that 62.9% of voters backed the Treaty in the second referendum.

Denmark and the Treaty of Maastricht

Way back in 1992, Denmark rejected the Treaty of Maastricht – by a tiny margin. Following renegotiations the country secured a range of opt-outs it holds to this day, according to Open Democracy.

One year later, the country returned to the polls and voted for the Treaty.

Britain and Brexit

Theresa May PM meeting with European Parliament President

With the Article 50 process well underway and a pro-Brexit government in place, it’s difficult to imagine Britain going back to the polls once again. The only realistic way that could have happened would have been if the Liberal Democrats’ pledge to hold a Brexit-terms referendum had garnered support in the last election. The party marginally increased their number of MPs, but their share of the vote went down slightly.

Another referendum looks highly unlikely, but when it comes to the EU there is precedent for voters being asked to think again.