Referendums in the United Kingdom and the European Union: Challenging federalism?

Research output: Working paper

Abstract / Description of output

This paper addresses the issue of borders and self-determination in the context of two seemingly incongruous developments: the application of direct democracy to make fundamental constitutional decisions on the one hand, and the gradual process of federalisation, with its commitment to pluralised consent to constitutional change, on the other. The case studies are the United Kingdom and the European Union itself, each of which is arguably set upon a federal trajectory. Federalism is a form of government designed to address the otherwise disruptive issue of borders and self-determination by balancing autonomy for territories with their wider commitment to the larger polity. It helps to avoid the stark issues of either/or self-determination and the creation of hard borders that come with separate statehood. The focus of the paper is upon the dynamics of constitutional change, and how these take on a particular form in federal polities.The paper reviews the pluralist dynamic of federal constitutionalism before turning to assess the rise of the referendum as a feature of constitutional change in federal systems. It considers how the ways in which the referendum acts as a nation-building or demos-building instrument can serve to strengthen vernacular identities. It addresses how this in turn can harden both borders and self-determination claims in a way that runs counter to the key constitutional purpose of federalism which is weaken these claims and make borders more fluid in support of constitutional projects that seek toaccommodate territorial pluralism within a wider union project.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherIBEI - Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Sept 2017

Publication series

NameEuborders Working Paper Series

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • referendums
  • federalism
  • constitutional law
  • constitutional theory
  • direct democracy
  • self-determination


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