Last week's resounding 'Yes' vote in the Neighbourhood Plan Referendum may have been a relief to all concerned about excessive building in the village but it seems to have produced an unexpected complication.
A constitutional lawyer has pointed out that the long-forgotten Single Referendum Act (1975) may prevent residents of Audlem Parish from voting in the European Referendum on 23rd June.
It seems that anti-European campaigners, or anti-Common Marketeers as they were back in the 1970s, asked for an Act of Parliament preventing more than one referendum a year. They feared, with some justification as subsequent polls in Ireland and France showed, that if a vote does not go the way European supporters want, a second or even a third poll would be held until pro- Europeans get the 'right' result.
With leading Eurosceptics such as the late Tony Benn behind it, the law was passed limiting "any territory within the United Kingdom to one Referendum in a calendar year", a stipulation that may now come back to haunt Audlem Parish voters.
The problem was caused by calling the Neighbourhood Plan vote a Referendum. Any other description and the 1975 Act would have been circumvented.
Indeed, one lawyer even suggested that it would be only the 43% who did vote on 24th March in Audlem's Neighbourhood Plan Referendum who might be excluded from the European Referendum ballot in June whereas the 57% who did not turn out could vote in June as this would be their first and only Referendum vote within the calendar year. This option was soon dismissed as too complicated to administer.
It is now expected that constitutional lawyers will make a small fortune helping avoid local voters being disenfranchised in June 2016 and the case may even go to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg with a final decision expected in late 2017 at the earliest.
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