More Deals and No Deals

More Deals and No Deals

In the discussions (on and offline) following my recent post ‘No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal’, one idea that came up a number of times was that there was a third option, to call the whole thing off. This was invariably suggested by people who had originally voted Remain.

Whilst including this option would make a much less snappy television show title, it is obviously theoretically correct that this is an option. I will even go further: if a significant proportion of Leave voters came to believe we should now stay in, that would at least warrant consideration of the matter. It wouldn’t be a simple decision – we don’t make national decisions through the fluctuations of opinion polls (otherwise we’d have left the EU a number of times during the ’90s and ’00s) – and I’d personally favour continuing to honour the referendum result, but it would at least be valid to consider it, particularly if the shift was sufficient and sustained.

The operative phrase in that paragraph, however, is this: ‘a significant proportion of Leave voters’. If a Remain voter says that the negotiations are going badly so we should remain in the EU, that doesn’t change the balance of opinion. This is someone who previously wanted to Remain and who now still wants to remain – and that viewpoint lost. And the vast majority of people who are taking this view, for example in the House of Lords or in the media, are Remain voters. I’m not saying all of them are acting in bad faith (though I’ve no doubt some are) – maybe they’ve gone from being mildly Remain to being very Remain – but it really is immaterial to the debate.

What would be needed for a reevaluation to be warranted is a large change of heart from the Leave side, and that simply hasn’t happened. The leaders of the Leave movement, whether in Cabinet or as represented in articles on sites such as Conservative Home and Brexit Central, continue to be pro-Leave. There may be some frustrations with the negotiations (often directed at those proposing more ‘Remainish’ options), but they’re not suggesting we Remain. And more importantly, the opinion polls also haven’t moved by more than 1-2%, at most. A visit to, which tracks this pretty regularly, shows that the polls on this issue have been pretty static for two years now, and currently stand in almost exactly the same place as on the eve of the referendum itself.

Because Remain voters significantly outnumber Leave voters in business, academia and the ‘Westminster bubble’ (as the referendum campaign demonstrated), it is quite easy for a false consensus to form, with articles and speeches proliferating that lament the progress of the negotiations and pressing the case for Remain. But these are being written by Remain voters and received by other Remain voters. Of course the authors don’t think things are going well. That’s entirely understandable: they didn’t want to Leave in the first place, so why would they? Tory voters don’t tend to rejoice in a Labour government delivering on its manifesto promises is a good thing, and neither do Labour voters cheer on the Conservatives. But unless the people who actually voted (and won a majority) for a cause of action start abandoning it, we have no cause to say its unsuccessful or to abandon it.

P.S. To anticipate a potential response to this, please do not respond by pointing out a specific example of a Leave voter who has changed their mind. Obviously some people have: over 17 million people voted Leave and over 16 million Remain, and if just 1% of them have changed their minds, that’s well over 100,000 on each side. The point is that only a very small proportion have, and not in sufficient numbers to fundamentally alter the balance.

6 thoughts on “More Deals and No Deals

  1. [apologies, this was going to be a short comment…I didn’t intend it to be the same length as the original post]

    I agree that it would need “significant numbers” of voters to change their mind, and that there’s not much evidence of such a swing. There is, as far as I can see, a gradual trend, with the current estimates being roughly symmetric around the original (so still very close), but it’s very variable. The voters who are likely to have more impact are the 20-25% of the electorate who didn’t vote, but then 72% turnout is pretty good so I don’t think that’s an argument in it’s own right for calling it off.

    It seems to me that leave voters voted that way for a few different reasons (for extra clarity, I’m not suggesting the this encompasses all voters):
    a) because of some political ideology that being part of any huge organisation like the EU is bad [I think this was a relatively small proportion of the population]
    b) because of bigotry, and the idea that foreigners are bad [I think this is a relatively small proportion of the population, at least smaller than often made out]
    c) that this was a good way of “sticking it to the man” (where man = government, Westminster, EU, the Establishment etc.)
    d) that they’d taken at face value the (mostly, but not exclusively, tabloid) press arguments over the past decades that the EU was a corrupt, unelected organisation which did things like stop us selling straight bananas and force austerity on us etc., and that the UK has no say in what happens.

    The arguments for “calling the whole thing off” are not, at least to my mind, just a case of being bitter. [aside: though we are bitter…]. I’d say the justifications are:

    a) the fact that the majority of the arguments made by the tabloid press in the category (d) above are not true, or at least hugely exaggerated.

    b) that many of the claims about what the outcome would be of a leave vote was simply not well defined, so it wasn’t really clear what we were voting for (“leaving the EU” covers a broad range of outcomes). Many of those claims were retracted shortly after the vote.

    c) the nature of the campaign, with both sides “overselling” their case, but many studies (legal and otherwise) found that the leave campaign was much worse. Think signs on buses, Farage in front of horrendous posters, etc. Yes, the remain camp wasn’t innocent, but the infractions (like picking the worst-case in financial predictions) were far less severe. The same website you cite above ( reports that 66% of Remain voters and 47% of Leave voters thought that one or both of the campaigns cheated (yes, there’s a fairly significant difference between Leave and Remain.)

    d) that the Remain campaign was so weak and lacked leadership. This was partly to do with Corbyn not being hugely pro-Remain (or possibly borderline), but mostly, in my opinion, because Cameron couldn’t effectively lead it, because he couldn’t (or didn’t want to) really say “hang on, that [insert bad thing, e.g. austerity here, or poverty in the north-east] is not the EU’s doing, but the result of UK government’s *own* policies”. (This is not the fault of the Leave campaign, of course, but more due to the fact that Cameron was trying not to split up the Tory party).

    e) that it’s all happened incredibly quickly, with far too little preparation (or progress), and over the last year or so I’ve seen very little evidence of the negotiating team actually doing things sensibly. Yes, there’s a bias because of the articles I read (though I tend to try to stay away from the extreme-left media such as canary etc.), but there have been very few reports of negotiation success.

    f) for the very fact that the majority of politicians and academics who research the EU (legal, political etc.) are in favour of Remain. I appreciate that financial models are a bit all-over-the-place, and finding Brexit hard to predict – from what I can tell I think it was the *financial* experts that Gove (infamously) had had enough of – but I find it hard to stomach disregarding the relevant academics (though, again, I appreciate I’m biased by being an academic myself, so maybe there’s an element of solidarity). The “enough of experts” rhetoric (not just in Brexit, but in other events around the world) has been incredibly damaging, beyond the Brexit discussion.

    I can see how it might be seen that these are just a case of being bitter, and not liking the result, but it’s much more than just not liking the outcome. I’m not actively campaigning for a re-referendum, or to overturn the result (besides discussions like this), largely for the reason you give that the majority of people haven’t changed their mind.

    I should act that can actually see how there might be a situation where Brexit isn’t completely disastrous (though I still don’t think it would be good), but that would require a long, detailed negotiation and transition period to one of the softer Brexit options. And I have pretty much zero confidence in the (current) government/negotiation team doing that.

    [P.S. potential, possibly important, typo – I assume that in the 3rd paragraph you meant “I’m *not* saying all of them are acting in bad faith”]

    1. Apologies, yes – that was indeed meant to be *not* saying all of them are acting in bad faith! I don’t even think it’s reasonable to expect people to stop campaigning for what they believe in – after all, the Brexiteers didn’t give up after 1975! – even though I appreciate your saying your not doing that.

      Many of the points you make could be the subject of an entire post by themselves (e.g. ‘who lied more?’ or the role of experts), so I’m not going to respond to them here. I would note that many of them were made by the Remain campaign during the campaign itself.

      I’d just come back to the point that whilst I appreciate these are important points in convincing you and many others who voted Remain, they clearly don’t sway Leavers, either because they don’t agree, or because they do but find other matters more important. The referendum exposed some pretty fundamental divides in terms of priorities and values, so it’s probably not so surprising.

      P.S. Have you read Shipman’s ‘All Out War’ about the campaign? It’s excellent and I think you’d enjoy it (and I think he voted Remain, so I’m not foisting Leave propaganda on you!).

  2. O don’t think it’s about leavers changing their mind as such more about clear democratic legitimacy. If (v unlikely) Labour went into the next election explicitly saying that if they won they wouldn’t go ahead and then got a majority (alone or with other parties saying same thing)/then I think reversal would be legitimate. But (linking to the arguments you make about fptp) I don’t think it should be reversed ‘behind closed doors’.

    The other angle is that it looks increasingly likely we might see hard evidence not just of dodgy promises (which you could use to challenge the result of any election) but of serious and significant breaking of the rules around e.g. Spending limits. That adds another level of justification for thinking again, depending on how severe it ends up being.

    1. Yes, I agree if we had a general election and a party went in on a platform to reverse it and won, that would be legitimate.

      The spending limit thing I’m less convinced by. Judges overruling election results on technicalities tends to happen in very unstable and dubiously fair democracies. Especially given Remain outspent Leave by £5m, it would be very hard to argue even tens of thousands made a decisive difference – so I’d suggest wrongdoers should be punished severely, up to and including imprisonment, but that it wouldn’t impact the result. Unless something on a completely different scale emerged, of course.

      1. P.S. The £9m of taxpayers’ money spent on a Remain campaign leaflet also seems relevant to legitimacy here, even if that was technically within the rules.

      2. It’s not a matter of judges overturning it though – as it’s not legally binding but is morally/politically somewhat so things like cheating at the campaign all add bits of weight to an argument – probably mostly to convince people who want to reverse it but think it’s wrong to do so that there’s more objective justification. In practice i doubt those people with be swayed much by the government leaflet you mention – they’re largely going to be looking for a justification not considering dispassionately.

        I personally don’t really like this angle either – I just suspect it will at a role.

        @Chris: on experts the problem is that they have things in common beyond their expertise. People who end up with lots of experience of eu institutions are likely to start out pro-eu and also to personally associate with it (as well potentially jobs relying on it). Just like I imagine most military experts support spending lots on the military. Academics also directly benefit from Europe as well as often sharing a cultural milieu.

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