The Electoral Commission

The independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK

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EU referendum question assessment

The European Union Referendum Act when first introduced as a Bill into the UK Parliament set out the proposed referendum question:

"Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?"

"A ddylai'r Deyrnas Unedig ddal i fod yn aelod o'r Undeb Ewropeaidd?"

The Political Parties, Referendums and Elections Act 2000 (PPERA) required the Commission to consider the wording of this referendum question and to publish a statement of our views as to its intelligibility.

Our advice on the proposed EU referendum question

We recommended that the referendum question be amended to:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain a member of the European Union
Leave the European Union

In Wales, we recommended that the following Welsh language version of the question should appear on the ballot paper:

A ddylai'r Deyrnas Unedig aros yn aelod o'r Undeb Ewropeaidd neu adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd?

Aros yn aelod o'r Undeb Ewropeaidd
Gadael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd

Our proposed EU referendum question changes were accepted by the Government and UK Parliament in the House of Commons on 7 September 2015.

You can read our full report and find out more below:

How we assessed the proposed referendum question

As well as looking at the question ourselves, we gathered evidence to help us with our assessment. This included:

  • Carrying out research with voters from different backgrounds and across different areas, through focus groups and one to one interviews.
  • Asking for advice from experts on accessibility and plain language
  • Talking to potential campaign groups, other interested groups and individuals, including political parties who may want to campaign at the referendum.

We looked at the proposed question from the perspective of voters, to see if it was written in a way that means they would have likely been able to easily understand and answer it.

Previous research

We have undertaken previous qualitative research into a question on the UK's membership of the European Union which was triggered by a Private Members' Bill in 2013.

Read more about our previous qualitative research...

Read the research report from our previous EU referendum question testing (PDF) 
Read our advice to Parliament from our previous EU referendum question testing (PDF)

We found that there was a risk of misunderstanding as some people were not clear about the UK's current EU membership status. However, amending the question to make the UK's current membership status clear while keeping 'Yes' and 'No' as the response options presented difficulties for some people who thought it could be biased. We therefore set out two recommendations to Parliament in our report. These recommendations were:

If Parliament wants to retain 'Yes' and 'No' as the response options, we recommended the question should be amended to:

    a) "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?"

If Parliament decides not to retain a 'Yes' and 'No' question, we recommended:

    b) "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"

We also undertook additional research to explore any issues raised by moving away from a 'Yes' and 'No' question.

This confirmed that question b) above was clear and straightforward for voters, and was the most neutral wording from the range of options we considered and tested.

Read our additional research on EU referendum question testing (PDF)

Elections and referendums