Well that’s it!
We now have legislation providing for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, following Royal Assent to the European Union Referendum Act 2015.
There’s not much left to do right? If only….
It’s always tempting at the end of the passage of a piece of legislation to relax for a moment and breathe a sigh of relief. After all, this is a Bill much improved from the version that was first introduced into the UK parliament and that we have briefed on at every stage. From the change to the referendum question to the reintroduction of the controls on Government campaigning that have been in place at every previous referendum since 2000, parliamentary scrutiny has achieved significant and welcome changes.
But this is only the start of the work now needed to deliver a successful poll.
To mark Royal Assent, the Commission has published our first readiness statement, setting out our current assessment of preparation and readiness for delivering the referendum.
The statement sets out that our overall assessment is that arrangements for the delivery of a well-run referendum are well-advanced. It also considers the preparatory work that has been carried out by the Chair of the Electoral Commission as the Chief Counting Officer designate for the referendum, including establishing a management framework with Regional Counting Officers designate and consulting on proposed directions on the delivery of the referendum and the timing of the count.
So you may ask why it is the first statement and not the last. This is because, of course, we do not know the actual date of the referendum, only that it must take place before the end of 2017 under this legislation.
This means that there is significant secondary legislation that must now be put in place and passed by the UK parliament to establish, amongst other things, when the referendum will happen and when the rules that must be followed by campaigners will be in place. We have done what we can to mitigate the uncertainty caused by this and our statement sets out what it can. We have also made clear, however, that we will produce a further statement when the date is known to update everyone on progress at that point and on any views we have on the proposed date before parliament considers it.
So keep an eye on the blog, our website and our twitter feed so you can stay up to date with what is happening and don’t forget, if you are a potential campaigner at the referendum, we will be publishing our guidance in the new year, and you can also sign up to our campaigner updates here.