European Union referendum

This page contains frequently asked questions about the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) that took place on 23 June 2016.

Please note that the Scottish Parliament is not responsible for the content of any external websites.

  • What were the results of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU?

    The question asked in the referendum was whether the United Kingdom (as the Member State) should leave the EU or remain a member of the EU.

    The results of the UK vote on 23 June 2016 were:

    Remain: 16.14 million people

    Leave: 17.41 million people

    Turnout: 72.2%

    You can find information about the Scottish results in the infographic produced by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe).

    You can find details of the results across the four nations of the UK on the website of the Electoral Commission.

  • Is the EU referendum result legally binding?

    The EU referendum was advisory and not legally binding. As such, the outcome of the referendum does not in itself have any legal effect. 

  • What is the process for the UK to leave the European Union?

    Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union sets out how a Member State such as the UK can withdraw from the European Union if it wishes to do so. Article 50 would be triggered by a letter or other form of notification from the UK Government to the European Council. There is no timescale for submitting a notification under Article 50.

    Article 50 provides for up to two years to negotiate a withdrawal settlement between the leaving state and the EU, once notification has been given. If no agreement is reached within the two years and there is no agreement to extend the time for negotiations, the Treaties would cease to apply and the state that triggered Article 50 would leave the EU.

    The Prime Minister has indicated that Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March 2017.

  • Does the Scottish Government or the Scottish Parliament have a role in the decision to trigger Article 50?

    No – neither the Scottish Government nor the Scottish Parliament has a formal role in the notification of Article 50. However, the UK Government may choose to consult with the devolved administrations before notifying the European Council of its intention to leave the EU. 

  • When might the UK leave the EU?

    Under the terms of Article 50, the UK would leave the EU once an agreement has been reached with the other EU Member States or at the end of the two-year period after Article 50 has been triggered. However, the two-year negotiating period could be extended if all the Member States agreed. Until then, the UK continues to be a member of the EU. 

  • Would a UK Parliament decision to leave the EU require the consent of the Scottish Parliament?

    The UK’s membership of the EU is a reserved matter. This means that relations with the EU are dealt with by the Government and Parliament of the UK, not the Scottish Parliament and Government. 

    The UK’s withdrawal from the EU would require an international agreement or would result from the operation of the Treaty on European Union. International agreements are not subject to the Legislative Consent Memorandum (LCM) process, nor are mechanisms under the Treaty on European Union. In that context, the Scottish Parliament would not have a block or veto on the decision to leave.

    However, once international level agreement has been reached, that agreement would need to be given effect in UK law.  It is not yet clear what form that would take, but it could involve the LCM process. 

    (LCMs are usually lodged in the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Government. They relate to Bills under consideration in the UK Parliament that contain what are known as ‘relevant provisions’. These provisions include altering the 'legislative competence' of the Scottish Parliament (its powers to make laws) or the 'executive competence' of Scottish Ministers (their powers to govern).) 

  • What will happen to EU legislation in Scotland?

    This depends on how the UK Government chooses to deal with the European Communities Act 1972 and also on what form of settlement the UK agrees with the EU in terms of a future relationship. It is therefore too early to say what will happen to EU legislation currently implemented in Scotland. 

  • Will there be any immediate changes?

    No – while the UK remains a member of the EU, there will be no changes to the rights and status of EU nationals living in the UK or of British nationals living in other EU countries. During this time, all the benefits, responsibilities and obligations of EU membership continue, including the need to observe and implement EU law. 

  • Can I apply for Scottish citizenship as Scotland voted to remain part of the EU?

    No – all UK nationals are British citizens and there is no separate Scottish citizenship. 

  • Is the Scottish Parliament discussing the outcome of the EU referendum?

    First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on the implications of the EU referendum for Scotland and MSPs then debated the issue on Tuesday 28 June 2016. During the debate, the First Minister announced the formation by the Scottish Government of a Standing Council on Europe to advise on legal, financial and diplomatic issues.

    You can read what was said in the statement and debate on 28 June in the Official Report of the meeting or watch these on YouTube (the statement; the debate).  

    The Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee is currently considering the EU referendum and its implications for Scotland. You can find out more about this work on the committee’s webpage.

  • What will happen to the future of EU funding in Scotland (i.e. Common Agricultural Policy, structural funds, Horizon 2020 etc.)?

    At this stage the UK continues to be a member of the European Union and, as a result, will continue to participate in European funding programmes. This will continue to be the case at least until the UK leaves the European Union. Following the UK’s departure from the EU, the position is less clear. Continued access to some aspects of EU funding will depend on the terms of the UK’s new relationship with the European Union (for instance the European Free Trade Association members of the European Economic Area participate in some EU funding programmes such as Horizon 2020).

    Decisions on replacing EU funding, such as the Common Agricultural Policy and structural funds once the UK has left the EU, will be policy decisions for the UK and Scottish Governments. 

  • What will happen to EU citizens in the UK following the UK decision to leave the EU?

    The status of EU citizens in the United Kingdom is likely to be addressed during the negotiations of the UK’s exit from the EU and negotiation of a new settlement between the EU and the UK.

    The UK Government published a statement on the status of EU nationals in the UK on 11 July 2016.  The statement said:

    “There has been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU, as a result of the referendum.

    (…) When we do leave the EU, we fully expect that the legal status of EU nationals living in the UK, and that of UK nationals in EU member states, will be properly protected.

    The government recognises and values the important contribution made by EU and other non-UK citizens who work, study and live in the UK.” 

  • How can I find out more?

    You can find more information in the briefing Following the EU Referendum – Frequently Asked Questions and in the UK decision to leave the European Union Hub, which is compiled by staff in the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe).