Sunday, 9 October 2016

How much of a mandate for Brexit does May actually have?

A week ago Theresa May stood up at the Tory Party conference and made a speech about Brexit. In it she referred to the referendum on several occasions:

"The referendum result was clear. It was legitimate."

"The people gave their answer with emphatic clarity" 

"...those people who argue that Article 50 can only be triggered after agreement in both Houses of Parliament... are insulting the intelligence of the British people."

Today (Sunday) it is reported that a number of senior MPs across all parties disagree with her on the last point. They want to vote on the form of Brexit. There are also two court cases imminent on that principle. But in general politicians have accepted the referendum result, deeming it legitimate.

But was the referendum result emphatic? Was the result clear?

So did the referendum result itself give Mrs May the mandate to drive through Brexit as hard as she is?  Let's take a look...


Here was how the overall result was portrayed by the BBC:

You can see how close the result was. Just 3.8% difference, less than 1.3 million people. Had just 650,000 voted the other way, Remain would have won. That is not an emphatic result.

Taking into account those who didn't vote, the picture is like this:

Leave had only 37.4% of the vote. That means 62.6% of eligible voters did NOT vote for Brexit, some 29 million people. That is certainly not clear emphatic backing for Brexit.

It can be argued that it's just tough luck on the 13 million who didn't vote. But in Company Law, important special resolutions require a 75% majority. 50% of those voting is not enough.

Why wasn't the bar set higher for such an important decision?  I attended a post-referendum debate in the Lords where one Lord stood up and said he had suggested a higher bar, but it was rejected.  I still don't understand why.  For such an important decision I would have expected 60% of those voting at least.

So no, Theresa.  The result was not emphatic.


The BBC published this analysis immediately after the referendum result:

It is notable that the older the voter, the more likely to vote Leave.  Is that a matter of wisdom? Maybe. But I suspect older people would have voted in the original refendum to join the Common Market, which became the EU with a much broader agenda than just trade as originally envisaged.  Theri views now are partly a reaction against that change.

But a clear majority of those under 45 wanted to Remain. Indeed, once total votes are considered, a majority of those of working age wanted to Remain.

Further research by Lord Ashcroft's organisation suggests, in their words:
  •  "A majority of those working full-time or part-time voted to remain in the EU"
  •  "Most of those not working voted to leave"
So much for this Government supporting hard-working families!  A clear vote, Mrs May?  No.


These figures were published by the BBC:

In England, only London voted to Remain. Scotland and Northern Ireland also voted to Remain.

Wales and the rest of England voted to Leave. This was most pronounced in the poorer areas of the Midlands and the North. The affluent South East also voted to Leave, but only just.


Like a by-election, votes between General Elections can be a protest vote against the Government of the day.  Especially those who feel let down by the establishment.  As noted above, it was "Most of those not working voted to leave".  Potentially as much a vote against the UK government as a fervent desire to leave the EU.

I spoke to a senior BBC technician a few days after the result.  Someone who takes a keen interest in politics. Emboldened by the media saying Remain would win, as a Remainer he voted Leave "to give Juncker a kicking". How many more placed a protest vote? Who knows? 


If research has been done on why people who voted Leave did so, there's been very little published on the internet.  Further points from the Ashcroft research suggests:
  • Nearly half (49%) of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the EU was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”. 
  • One third (33%) said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.” 
  • Just over one in eight (13%) said remaining would mean having no choice “about how the EU expanded its membership or its powers in the years ahead.” 
  • Only just over one in twenty (6%) said their main reason was that “when it comes to trade and the economy, the UK would benefit more from being outside the EU than from being part of it.”
That accounts for everyone. So maybe there were few purely protest votes.

But only one third of the Leave voters put Immigration as their first point.  Not clear if it was a significant factor for the other Leave voters. The point is, unless the Government has nore revealing statistics, it is not clear that Immigration and controlling borders is as important to the Leave voters as Theresa May is making out.  The vote isn't clear on this topic that seems to be driving Theresa May's thinking.  So what is? Is it her frustration as Home Secretary in having no means to control immigration from the EU, and her battles with the European Courts about expulsion of Abu Qatada for example? Certainly it's not a clear referendum result.


The referendum campaigns, both Leave and Remain, insulted the intelligence of people. Half truths and outright lies.  Appeals to heart rather than head.  Leaving people confused or significantly misled.   The epitome was the Leave Battle Bus with two key messages "Take Back Control" and "£350 million a week for the NHS".   Painted red to appeal to Labour voters perhaps:

So how did the result play out across the demographics according to Ashcroft, with Remain in brown and Leave in blue:


As a reasonable measure of intelligence and education:
  • Managerial, administrative and professional people voted to Remain
  • Skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled people voted to Leave 
Furthermore Ashcroft reports:
  • A majority (57%) of those with a university degree voted to remain
  • 64% of those with a higher degree voted to remain 
So the better educated, the more likely to vote to remain.

So why did the C2 and DE grades vote to Leave? Was it the bus and its distorted messages appealing to heart rather than head? Was it a protest vote against a rising economy that wasn't benefiting them?  Was it really immigration?  It's unclear.


Voting is rather like purchasing.  There can be "buyer's remorse", where the decision is regretted shortly afterwards. In the context of the referendum, the remorse is nicknamed Bremorse or Bregret.

So how much Bregret is there? Would it be enough to swing the vote the other way?

The British Election Study surveyed people just after the Referendum, and discovered for the question “Do you have any regrets about the way you voted in the EU referendum?”:

Remain Leave
No 98% 90%
Yes 1% 6%
Don’t know 1% 4%

That is, a net reduction in the Leave vote of some 900,000 people.  If they had all switched votes, that exceeds the 650,000 needed to give a Remain vote overall.  A further net 500,000 were unsure.  That's potentially a straight win for Remain.

With the fall in  the value of sterling, people are now noticing it is more expensive to go abroad, or to buy imported goods such as food, consumer electronics, white goods and foreign cars.  Poorer and now feeling poorer. 

The Leave side have also acknowledged that £350m per week for the NHS was not correct.  Indeed with forecasts now that a 'hard' Brexit could double the Governemetn's annual deficit, it may well mean taking money away fromt he NHS

So the level of Bregret may well have increased, pogtentially substantially.  It will be interesting to see more up to date polls

Philip Hammond was right in his Tory conference speech.  People "did not vote to be poorer and less secure". Yet that is the picture he is now seeing for the Government's current Brexit strategy.  Indeed any form of Brexit.  Few would have voted to Brexit at any cost.

It will be interesting to see how public attitudes harden or change as the Autumn Statement approaches on 23 November.  Economic issues are likely to become more prominent in the media.


So was the result emphatic and clear that people want to leave the EU?  No it wasn't:
  • 62.6% of eligible voters did not back Brexit.  
  • The 51.9% to 48.1% result was only marginal
  • Key groups like London, Scotland and the better educated people across the UK voted to Remain
  • Those of working age voted to Remain, as did people actually in work. It was retired and unemployed who voted to Leave 
  • Immigration and border controls were a factor in Leave votes, but not dominant enough to drive Brexit policy in the way it appears to be happening
Furthermore, indications are that there is more Bregret amongst Leave voters than Remain.  More than needed to swing the vote from Leave to Remain.  This is only likely to get bigger when people react to the devaluation of sterling and to economic forecasts.  It will be interesting to see up to date polls.
So Mrs May.  Look behind the slim majority for Brexit.  It was not emphatic.  It was not clear. You do NOT have the mandate for Brexit you think you have. Tread carefully.  And please don't betray the majority who did not vote for Brexit.

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