Should I Stay or Should I Go? British Voter You Got to Let Me Know! Prime Ministers, Intra-Party Conflict, and Membership Referendums in the British Westminster Model

In Journal of Theoretical Politics


We explain the referendums on British membership of the European Communities and European Union from a principal–agent perspective between the Prime Minister and the rank-and-file. We show that announcing a referendum on the Prime Minister’s membership proposal helps the incumbent party to win the general election when the rank-and-file is divided on the terms of membership. When the Prime Minister overcomes the rank-and-file’s mistrust of her effectiveness in negotiating new membership terms with other member states, the voters are more likely to follow her proposal. However, when intra-party controversies reveal principal–agent problems, the initially uninformed voters can learn about the dysfunctionality of the terms and are more likely to reject the Prime Minister’s proposal.

Journal of Theoretical Politics
Xiao Lu
Xiao Lu
Postdoc Researcher

My research interests include political methodology, party politics, coalition politics, legislative politics and European politics.