Brexit, The Referendum, & the Balancing Act

As parliament goes ever closer to a Brexit vote (now that the Supreme court has said it has to have a vote and that the PM can’t unilaterally act – much to the anger of those claiming they wanted to return power to Parliament and away from an unelected entity making laws.. go figure) there is an increasing debate over which way MP’s should vote.

Before the referendum, a majority of MP’s were opposed to Brexit, and since the referendum, many seem to be leaning towards voting for it.

Let’s break this down a bit.

Before the referendum, most were against Brexit, why?
Well, put simply, the vast majority of evidence strongly showed that Brexit would be bad economically.

In other words, the weight of evidence was overwhelmingly in the ‘remain’ camp. As such, the politicians were going to do what was best for the country, and stay in.
Let’s represent this as a balance.

Now, let’s talk about the referendum results. They were 17,410,742 (51.89%) leave and 16,141,241 (48.11%) leave (for a 1,269,483 vote or 3.78% margin). I’m not going to get into the whole ‘lies’ and promises that were later walked back, those were the results, and that’s what we’ve got to deal with.
So, let’s put them on an imaginary balance.

So, we’ve got one balance strongly tilted towards ‘remain’ (fact) and one that’s slightly tilted to leave (public opinion).

So, what happens when you combine them?

Oh dear, still a strong tilt towards remain.

So how do you get from this position to one where leave dominates? Well, you can either remove the evidence(or minimise the weight you give it) or maximise the weight you give to the popular vote.

Either way, you have to get the 3.8% vote margin large enough to overcome the massive factual deficits of Brexit.

The only way to do that is to essentially ignore the facts. To take a marginal win in an advisory referendum, and use that as the pure benchmark, that’s disastrous.

Now, had there been significant (as in more than 3.8% margin, more like a 15-20%) gap then that would be more acceptable. However, the votes show that there’s only a slight preference for leave AT THE TIME.

So, the advice from the populace was a very very weak ‘leave’. In what way does that very weak leave advice outweigh all the factual evidence against it?

It doesn’t.

What we have is the problem of naked populism. The problem is that people as a whole can be manipulated by base emotions. Give them something to be afraid of, angry about, or an excuse to be greedy, and they’ll grab it and back it to the hilt. It doesn’t matter if it’s true,  a bit misleading or complete bullshit.

The job of an MP is not to enable populism. Their job is (supposed to be) about helping enact good legislation for the benefit of the country.

Today’s 498-114 vote failed that (and ironically, it required more undemocratic action, in the form of a 3-line whip)

It failed the UK.

It exists on a belief of magical trade deals that are going to mysteriously be better because when roughly 50% of UK trade is with the EU, that’s going to be hard to compare with the 8-17% (depending on how you calculate it) of EU trade to the UK. Absent a deal, the UK takes a hit to half its economy, the EU takes a hot to a sixth at worst. So the UK has a lot more at stake, and thus the weaker position.

This treats the EU as a single entity, though, which isn’t actually true. Despite claims of bureaucracy imposed by Brussels from the leave camp, any trade deal has to be approved individually by each member state individually. So, while certain Brexiters have gone on about how 1-in-5 German cars are sold in the UK, and the German auto industry is -in-7 of their workforce (thus giving them significant leverage with the German Government) at best that means a 1-in-35 hit to the workforce (assuming these claims, which I have no verified, are true), but more importantly, the negotiators won’t be negotiating for Germany, they’ll be negotiating for the EU. So, even if we assume the German car companies get a sweet deal in the negotiations, Will the Dutch or the Latvians go for that deal? Would Poland be car-friendly, considering it wants all Astra production, and not to share it with the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port (which GM is considering, and would push things even more towards the EU)?

Then there are more historical issues. Take Gibraltar for instance. They voted 96% remain, but their existence has always been a thorn in the Spanish side, claiming it’s Spanish territory. There are significant restrictions on the air approach corridors for Gibraltar airport, for instance. Absent significant concessions from the UK, Spain may vote ‘no’ on any deal.

So deals aren’t a foregone conclusion, but even if they are, it still takes time.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, for instance, started in 2008. the final meeting was in Atlanta in September 2015, and it was signed in Feb 2016, but is no longer going to be implemented, because the US withdrew without ratification a week ago.

8 years of negotiating wasted.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was started in January 2013 following that year’s State of the Union address by President Obama, and 4 years on, still isn’t negotiated (it estimated the negotiations will take another 2 years). Ratification would take another year or more, meaning that will be a 7-year process, if all goes well.

It’s not a month-long thing, these kinds of deals. The only way to make it quicker is to capitulate. The EU can afford to wait, the UK can’t.

So, we can last it out, get a quite bad deal 6-7 years down the line, or the UK can negotiate a really bad deal and get it in 2-3 years if all goes well.

And so the advice of a tiny majority of UK voters that these things should be ignored should have been acknowledged, but dismissed. The members of Parliament have access to more information, are better educated on the realities out there than the “man in the street’s” tabloid opinions.

An advisory referendum, at the end of the day, is just that, advice. It’s not a suicide pact. To advise does not mean to overrule common sense.