I was somewhat surprised that the Queen’s Speech contained the statement ‘My Government will hold a referendum on membership of the European Union’. My concern is the terminology. The Government may propose a referendum, but has no power of its own to hold a referendum. It may propose one and can introduce a Bill, as it did, to provide that one is held. Parliament legislates for a referendum and the administration is undertaken by others.
The terminology is worrying in the context of the Government’s approach to constitutional issues. It reflects a somewhat sloppy approach that has characterised succeeding governments. There has been no intellectually coherent approach to constitutional change and a view, personified by Tony Blair, that the constitution is the servant of the government rather than the other way round. Schoolchildren benefit from citizenship education. Perhaps it should be extended to the Cabinet Office.