Schmitt, Dicey, and the power and limits of referendums in the United Kingdom

Matt Qvortrup, Leah Trueblood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
206 Downloads (Pure)


Carl Schmitt and AV Dicey are two of history's most influential constitutional theorists, and they offer two of history's most influential accounts of referendums. In most respects, their approaches to referendums are in direct opposition to each other. On Schmitt's view, the purpose of referendums is to acclaim executive actors. On Dicey's view, the role of referendums is to constrain them. Despite disagreeing about whether referendums should acclaim or constrain the executive, Schmitt and Dicey agree that an agenda-setting role for representatives in referendums is inevitable. This paper argues that, in the UK context, if Schmitt and Dicey are right about the necessary agenda-setting power of representatives in referendums, then the accounts of referendums they each offer must be two sides of the same coin. Given the dominance of the executive over the legislature in the UK and the uncodified nature of the constitution, referendums are processes that necessarily both acclaim and limit the executive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)396-407
Number of pages12
JournalLegal Studies
Issue number3
Early online date9 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Society of Legal Scholars.


  • Democracy
  • Jurisprudence
  • Public law
  • Referendums

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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