Referendum Act 1975

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Referendum Act 1975
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to provide for the holding of a referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Economic Community.
Citation1975 c. 33
Introduced byEdward Short, Lord President of the Council (Commons)
Elwyn Jones, Baron Elwyn-Jones, Lord Chancellor (Lords)
Territorial extent United Kingdom
(England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland)
Royal assent8 May 1975
Commencement8 May 1975
Repealed2 May 1986
Other legislation
Repealed byStatute Law (Repeals) Act 1986 (1986 c. 12)
Relates to
Status: Repealed

The Referendum Act 1975 (c. 33), also known simply as the Referendum Act or the Referendum Bill, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which made legal provision for the holding of a consultative referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Communities (EC)—generally known at the time in the UK, with reference to their main component, the European Economic Community (EEC) as stipulated in the Act, also known at the time as the "Common Market".[1] The Referendum Bill was introduced to the House of Commons by the Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council Edward Short on 26 March 1975; on its second reading on 10 April 1975, MPs voted 312–248 in favour of holding the referendum—which came the day after they voted to stay in the European Communities on the new terms set out in the renegotiation.

The Act gave effect to a manifesto commitment of the Labour Party at the general election of October 1974, and set out the arrangements and procedure for the United Kingdom's first ever national referendum, in which voting was to take place simultaneously in all parts of the country. The Act was given Royal Assent on 8 May 1975 and came into effect immediately on the same date.

In accordance with the Act, the European Communities membership referendum took place on Thursday 5 June 1975, and voters approved continued EC/EEC membership by 67% to 33% on a national turnout of 64%.[2]

The Act became effectively spent following the declaration of the national referendum result; however, it was not officially repealed until eleven years later, by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1986.

The Act[edit]

The Act legislated for a non-binding referendum to be held in the United Kingdom on Thursday 5 June 1975 on the issue of continuing membership of the EC and the EEC (the Common Market), which was to be a single majority vote, to be overseen by an appointed "Chief counting officer" who would declare the final result for the United Kingdom. As there was no previous precedent for the holding of any such plebiscite across the United Kingdom the Act also set out its procedure and format.

The referendum[edit]


The Act also provided for the equal public funding of two campaigns, one for a Yes vote, the other for a No vote. While each campaign was to receive the same amount of public money which amounted to £125,000 each, other donations were also to be permitted with no upper spending limit for either side .[3]

Counting areas[edit]

The Act allowed for the appointment of a "National Counting Officer" (later "Chief Counting Officer") who would lead and oversee the referendum both centrally and nationally. Also within the legislation it oversaw the appointment of the "Returning Officers" who would oversee the counts within their local areas. The Act legislated for verification which would be held at local authority level (district councils) after the close of polls, but the counting of votes would be only permitted and declared at the level of administrative regions under the Local Government Act 1972 and the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 as follows:

This meant there would be a total of 68 counting areas across the United Kingdom (47 in England, eight in Wales, twelve in Scotland, and a single area for Northern Ireland). Verification took place locally in England and Wales after the polling stations closed, but the referendum count itself did not begin until the day following the poll, Friday 6 June, beginning at 09:00 BST.

Referendum question[edit]

The Act set out the following question which the British electorate would be asked:

The Government has announced the results of the renegotiation of the United Kingdom's terms of membership of the European Community. Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?

permitting a YES / NO answer (to be marked with a (X)).

Original proposed question[edit]

When the bill was introduced it gave the question to appear on ballot papers:

Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community?

permitting a YES / NO answer (to be marked with a (X)).

The question was revised after the Government agreed to amend it to include the term "the Common Market" in brackets at the end of the question.


The right to vote in the referendum was given to those who were residents of the United Kingdom, who were citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKCs) and other persons with most other forms of British nationality, or Commonwealth citizens, under the British Nationality Act 1948, in both cases, and also citizens of the Republic of Ireland resident in the United Kingdom, all of which as according to the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1969. Members of the House of Lords were permitted to vote. Voting took place from 07:00 to 22:00 British Summer Time on Thursday 5 June. The minimum age for voters in the referendum was 18 years, a figure in line with general elections in the UK at that time.

Referendum result[edit]

All but two of the regional counting areas returned a majority of votes in favour of continued EC membership.

The national result was declared at around 23:00 BST on Friday 6 June 1975 by the Chief Counting Officer Sir Phillip Allen in London after all sixty eight of the regional counting areas had declared their results.

1975 United Kingdom European Communities membership referendum
Choice Votes %
Yes 17,378,581 67.23
No 8,470,073 32.77
Valid votes 25,848,654 99.78
Invalid or blank votes 54,540 0.22
Total votes 25,903,194 100.00
Registered voters/turnout 40,086,677 64.62
Source: House of Commons Library[4]

NOTE: Unusually for a referendum Yes was the no change (status quo) option.

National referendum results (excluding invalid votes)
17,378,581 (67.2%)
8,470,073 (32.8%)


Results by United Kingdom constituent countries[edit]

Country Electorate Voter turnout,
of eligible
Votes Proportion of votes Invalid votes
Yes No Yes No
  England 33,356,208 64.6% 14,918,009 6,182,052 68.65% 31.35% 42,161
  Northern Ireland 1,030,534 47.4% 259,251 237,911 52.19% 47.81% 1,589
  Scotland 3,688,799 61.7% 1,332,186 948,039 58.42% 41.58% 6,481
  Wales 2,011,136 66.7% 869,135 472,071 64.80% 35.20% 4,339


The result, with "yes" votes from all but two of the 68 regional counting areas, confirmed the commitment to continued membership of the EC and of the EEC ("the Common Market") on the renegotiated terms; and the government led by Harold Wilson took no further direct action. Until the 2016 EU Referendum this was the only national referendum to be held in the United Kingdom regarding its relationship with the then European Communities; by then, both the EC the EEC had transformed (retrospectively) into the European Union (EU), under the terms of the Treaty of the European Union (EU), known as the Maastricht Treaty (TEU) (1992, effective 1 November 1993).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Current Law Statutes Annotated 1975, vol. 1 (Sweet and Maxwell, 1975), pp. 1,051-1,058
  2. ^ Colin Turpin, Adam Tomkins, British Government and the Constitution: Text and Materials (2007), p. 535
  3. ^ Referendums in the United Kingdom (Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 2010), p. 140
  4. ^ Vaughne Miller, Research Briefings – The 1974–75 UK Renegotiation of EEC Membership and Referendum, House of Commons Library,, 13 July, 2015, accessed 4 July 2021