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Referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union

On this page you can find out about the referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union (EU).

Our role

Our focus is on voters and on putting their interests first.

Our objectives for referendums are that:

  • they should be well-run and produce results that are accepted
  • there should be integrity and transparency of campaign funding and expenditure

Latest updates

Our responsibilities

We have specific responsibilities and functions in relation to the delivery and regulation of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA).

These apply to any referendum Bill brought before the UK Parliament unless specifically stated otherwise.

Our responsibilities under PPERA include:

  • Commenting on the intelligibility of the referendum question.
  • Registering organisations or individuals who want to campaign in the referendum.
  • Monitoring spending on referendum campaigning, in line with the referendum spending limits imposed by PPERA.
  • Considering applications for designation as lead campaign groups for each referendum outcome.
  • Ensuring that designated organisations (if appointed) have access to certain assistance.
  • Reporting on the administration of the referendum and referendum campaign spending.

The Chair of the Commission, or someone they appoint, must act as Chief Counting Officer for the referendum and is responsible for certifying the outcome of the referendum.

EU Referendum Act

The European Union Referendum Act received Royal Assent on 17 December 2015.

The referendum provided for in the Act must take place no later than 31 December 2017. It makes additions and amendments to the framework set out in PPERA to establish a regulatory framework for a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU.

The substantive provisions of the Act have not yet been commenced, and several pieces of secondary legislation must be laid, debated and approved by Parliament before the referendum can take place.

All parliamentary briefings issued while the Bill progressed through Parliament are available here

Question assessment

We carried out an assessment of the referendum question, to make sure that it is clear and easy for voters to understand.

Find out more on our EU Referendum question assessment page

Designating lead campaigners

The Act provides that the Commission can designate lead campaigners for each outcome at a referendum, or just for one outcome. PPERA sets out a statutory test we must apply when assessing applications to be a lead campaigner.

What is a designated campaigner?

A designated lead campaigner is the lead campaign group for one side of the debate. It will act as the lead campaign group on behalf of those campaigning for that outcome.

Designated lead campaigners are entitled to a number of benefits in addition to those given to other registered campaigners that may include an increased spending limit, campaign broadcasts, a publicly funded grant, free mailing and access to meeting rooms.

The Commission's role in designation

We have the responsibility for designating lead campaigners for each outcome, or just one outcome, at the referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union. PPERA sets out a statutory test we must apply when assessing applications to be a lead campaigner.

The designation process

There is a statutory test in PPERA that the Commission must apply when assessing applications for designation:

  • if there is only one applicant for an outcome, the Commission shall designate an applicant unless it is not satisfied that it adequately represents those campaigning for that outcome, and
  • if there is more than one applicant for an outcome, the Commission shall designate whichever of the applicants appears to the Commission to represent to the greatest extent those campaigning for that outcome.

The EU Referendum Act provides that the Commission can designate a lead campaigner on only one side of the referendum if we are not able to designate lead campaigners for both outcomes. We will consider all applications on their merit against the statutory test.

Based on the legislation for the referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union, we will take the following considerations into account during the designation process for the EU Referendum:

  • how the applicant's objectives fit with the referendum outcome it supports
  • the level and type of support for the application
  • how the applicant intends to engage with other campaigners
  • the applicant's organisational capacity to represent those campaigning for the outcome, and
  • the applicant's capacity to deliver their campaign (including its financial probity)

Further information on the process used for the Scottish Independence Referendum is available here in the Commission's designation guidance (PDF)

More information

In the run up to the referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union, we will be providing updates for people and organisations that may be campaigning at the referendum.

Sign up here to receive EU Referendum campaigner updates

Elections & referendums