Testing the EU referendum question

Overview

We commented on the intelligibility of the proposed referendum question. We recommended that the question should 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

The Government and UK Parliament accepted our changes in the House of Commons on 7 September 2015.
 

The proposed referendum question

The proposed referendum question included in the European Union Referendum Act was:

"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 response options to this question were ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
 

How we assessed the proposed referendum question

We looked at the proposed question from the perspective of voters. We wanted to see if it was written in a way that voters could easily understand and answer.

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

What we found

We found that the question was written in plain language and was easy for people to understand and answer.

However, we had concerns that the question encouraged voters to consider one response more favourably than the other. This could raise concerns about the legitimacy of the result of the referendum. 

Our research with the public had also indicated that the question needed to make the UK's current EU membership status clear.

Our assessment suggested that it was possible to ask a question which would not cause concerns about neutrality, whilst also being easily understood by including both outcomes – remain and leave – in the question and using these as the answer options instead of yes/no. 
 

Previous research

Last updated: 1 August 2019
Next review: 24 June 2020