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Brexit, Broken Majorities and Consequent Chaos


Analysis > Brexit, Broken Majorities and Consequent Chaos


In June 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU, much to the surprise of many. As of January 2018, there is no clear plan for exit, even though it is due on March 29th.

The UK's political system is, like America's, based on two-party politics. When there are two parties, then you can play at majorities. The group that gets the most people elected gets to form a government, then as long as all their parliamentary members vote with the party, they can pass any laws they like, based again on a majority of members of parliament voting for any one resolution. This principle, that all you need is 51% of the vote, works as it plays to a simple principle of fairness that most accept, even though nearly half the voters get disappointed.

However, a problem happens when an issue is so divisive that there are more than two positions. In multi-party politics, such as appears in systems of proportional representations, then alliances are formed to again build a majority. The 2017 UK general election left the Conservatives without a clear majority, which shows a weakness of two-party politics when a third party holds enough votes to join with a larger party, yet hold disproportionate power in their ability to disrupt business as usual. The Northern Ireland DUP party, a small but very conservative group themselves, joined the Conservatives to form a majority, but

The real problem, though, for Brexit, is that there are three almost equal factions in the 600-odd MPs of the House of Commons. Unusually also, they cross party lines and the party leaders seem impotent in being able to persuade them to follow any party line. About a third are with the Prime Minister in wanting to go with the 'deal' she negotiated with Europe, including a £40bn 'divorce' bill and leaving much power with the EU. About a third want to remain in the EU and see a second public referendum as a good way to get there. And about another third (maybe a bit less) want a 'hard Brexit', crashing out of the EU with no agreement and no payment. And each group is passionate about their solution.

What this means is that there is no way to get a majority for any choice. Indeed, each group would need to get about over 100 more other MPs to join them. In this way, the majority principle has broken. The deepest key reasons this has occurred is strength of belief. The Conservatives have always been divided over the issue, including when we joined the EU in 1972. Labour have also been divided but are affected by two strong forces: one is that most MPs and party members tend to want to remain in the EU, yet their leader (Jeremy Corbyn) and much of their electorate wants to leave the EU, resulting in MPs torn between keeping their seats and following their ideals.

So, what will happen?

As of this writing, there is an impasse. The hard Brexit option seems to be much feared by the two thirds who oppose this, and it is this fear that may lead to a solution. The EU fears it too, which may drive them to offer more to avoid it, enabling sufficient MPs to be persuaded to vote the amended soft Brexit through. This shows how decisions can be driven more by fear than passion, even when passionate belief exists. Fear is a very powerful motivator, and when faced with a cliff-edge ideal can melt away.

If an acceptable compromise cannot be found then another solution is to hold a second referendum, though the PM's office is currently suggesting that this would take a year or so to organize (which is odd, as a General Election only takes a couple of months to sort out). It highlights a second approach when parties cannot agree: ask somebody else. Sometimes it is a trusted third party. In this case it is the electorate that put the MPs there in the first place, trusting them to make wise decisions.

And then strange, mad things have been happening in global politics in recent years, and a hard Brexit may yet happen. Warehouse space in the UK is now difficult to find as the government and companies stockpile against the day when imports stop. I'm doing it myself and have full freezers and a good pile of tinned tomatoes. But I most certainly hope that this chaotic result does not happen.

See also

The Emotionally of Brexit and the Desperation to Appear Rational, Brexit Brinksmanship: The Cliff-edge On Which Everyone is Banking


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