The UK left the European Union because of a public referendum where 51.8% of the votes were in favour in leaving the EU.

Suppose it had resulted in an tie, i.e. 50% in favour of leaving the EU, 50% against leaving the EU.

What legal framework existed at the time for handling such a tie? Would the government have been required to run the referendum a second time? Would they have settled it with a coin flip? Or was there no law about this possibility at all?

  • 4
    I’m voting to close this question because it belongs on politics.stackexchange.com May 17, 2023 at 14:32
  • 1
    This election was held years ago May 17, 2023 at 22:13
  • 1
    @BlueDogRanch I disagree. Either there was a legal requirement that the referendum would be run again in the case of a tie, or there was not; either way, the question can be answered with reference to the law. "What would the politicians have done if the vote tied" is a separate question that does not invalidate this one. Though perhaps the question could be improved to make that distinction clearer.
    – MJ713
    May 22, 2023 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


You can see the whole regulations on www.legislation.gov.uk.

It is a referendum. There does not need to be a "winner". A referendum is meant to understand what the general populace wants. And "they are split exactly 50/50 between X and Y" is a valid result in that frame.

The point that made this referendum special was that the ruling party had promised, that they would actually do what the referendums outcome would suggest, even if they were not legally bound by it and were not even in favor of it as a political party.

So what the ruling party would have done when confronted by an absolute exact tie (not only percentages, but actual votes) is anybodies guess. I don't think anybody had a backup plan for what happens if the 33,577,342 votes came out exactly 16,788,671 to 16,788,671. The chance of that... was not real. You prepare for that about as much as for an alien invasion on election day.

  • Thanks. If it is a even number there can be a tie but not for a odd number of votes. In this case there can be a tie which could be rare. 33,577,342 May 17, 2023 at 10:09
  • 1
    @PrashantAkerkar You are looking at 51.8% vs. 48.2%. There are 1 208 780 votes more for leaving than staying. The chance for exactly 50/50 in an election with that many votes is 1 in a number of possibilities that has more than a million zeros. You are looking at a chance of $\frac{1}{33,5*10^6!}$ - that is 1 difived by the factorial of 33.5 million...
    – Trish
    May 17, 2023 at 11:37
  • 1
    Technically it was a plebiscite, not a referendum. A referendum is legally binding, which, given the UK’s doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty is not possible there. While this particular plebiscite was politically binding, that didn’t make it a referendum.
    – Dale M
    May 17, 2023 at 12:38
  • Thanks. This could be the rarest case where probability could be 0.000000001 for the votes tie. But still, revoting? May 17, 2023 at 15:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .