The EU referendum could to delayed until 2018 and David Cameron is furious


David Cameron

Reuters/Darren Staples

Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Electoral Commission, which sets the standards for elections in the UK has warned the government that if 16 and 17 year-olds are given the vote, the EU referendum will need to be delayed to at least 2018.


That's despite the House of Commons voting against extending the vote to 16 and 17 year-olds in June. The House of Lords overwhelmingly endorsed the idea for council elections earlier this year.

The House of Lords is feeling empowered following its defeat of Chancellor George Osborne's plans to cut tax credits and a coalition of Labour, Lib Dem and cross-bench peers feel confident that they can force through a lowering of the voting age. They believe that 16 and 17 year-olds should be given the right to vote, while the government opposes this as they did during the Scottish referendum.

The Electoral Commission says that if the voting age is lowered, there needs to be "sufficient time" before the referendum is held in order to allow newly eligible voters to register to vote. Here is the advice they sent to the government:

Following the September 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum we recommended that policy makers or legislators considering legislation to extend the franchise for future referendums or elections to include 16 and 17 year olds should ensure that any changes to legislation are clear six months prior to the beginning of the annual canvass of households (which currently takes place between July and December each year).


The annual canvass is the effort made each year by local councils to sign up voters to the electoral register. If there needs to be six clear months before this takes place in July, and the voting age is lowered in the early months of next year, the government could be forced to wait until early 2018 before they hold a referendum as there wouldn't be six months clear before the July 2016 Canvas.

The government is worried that allowing 16 and 17 years old to vote could follow the example set by young voters in the Scottish independence referendum. A survey found that 71% of 16 to 17 year-old voters in last September's Scottish referendum voted to break away from the United Kingdom.

David Cameron does not want Britain to leave the EU and the news from the Electoral Commission means if young people are granted the vote it would be a double blow to his ambitions. Not only could young people be more likely to vote to leave, it would drag out the referendum campaign much longer than he would like, something he worries could make a Brexit vote more likely.

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