There are those that say a win is a win, usually accompanied by; so
get over it. However, this is not athletics where, however close the
result, a win is indeed a win. Nor is it a general election, run on the
“first past the post” basis in individual constituencies, where a win is
a win but its effect is local and a national picture only emerges by
combining 650 of these individual wins. There will be some very close
calls and anomalies but these are in general averaged out due to the
number of seats. The system is not perfect and has many critics but it
is a relatively robust measure of the mood of the country. A referendum
is just a single national poll whose purpose is to ascertain the opinion
of the people.
Because it is a single poll there needs to be safeguards to ensure
the result is actually measuring something and is not just a result of
random errors (aka noise). Many countries, when they hold a referendum
require there to be at least a 20% margin for the vote to be deemed
decisive. Others, also require a minimum turnout. Clearly if a
referendum produced a result of 60% yes 40% no … then the Ayes would
have it. But if, as happened in the referendum in 2016, the result is
51% leave 49% remain then there has to be some doubt.
One doesn’t need to be a mathematician to think that this doesn’t
look like a decisive win. This begs the question, is that intuitive view
correct and can it be quantified? In other words is the possible error
in measuring the “will of the people” measurable and is it larger than
the margin? A paper written by several eminent professors of statistics
(see link below) shows that the error is indeed quantifiable and is
considerably larger than the result and that the result cannot possibly
be relied upon, other than indicating that the people are undecided. The
paper also shows that the 60% win threshold, used in many countries,
has a good scientific basis.
The paper cannot be dismissed by the tedious incantation by
non-mathematicians that you can prove anything with statistics. This is a
closely argued paper that employs a variety of tools, widely used in
biometrics, to demonstrate beyond doubt that the referendum did not
yield a result that has any practical or material significance and that
the assertion that the people voted to leave is at best unproven. It
manages to establish this fact very early on by the simply use of Effect
Size. It then goes on to consider more technical aspects of
It is an important paper, and the Government and others should study it.
The Act of Parliament that enabled the referendum made no mention of
any threshold or minimum turnout. It should have done, especially given
the consequence that could flow from it. The reason was probably that
few people expected such a tight vote. Whatever was expected, it was a
mistake. All organisations and institutions, even Parliament make
mistakes. What is required now is for Parliament to do the honorable and
democratic thing and rectify this mistake.
Links to more information
Apart from the obvious spray of lies, manipulative hate-mongering and
fantasy world domination from the mouths of Farage, BoJo, Rees-Moog and
others, there is also the small matter of electoral fraud. Vote Leave,
the official campaign group, allegedly channeled funds through BeLeave
and a company AIQ to get campaign funds of 625,000 GBP off their books
so it looked like they were below the official limit of 7M GBP. If so,
they broke electoral law and the Electoral Commission is now
investigating. It is difficult to quantify the effect this extra
expenditure may have had on the result.
Links to more information
The Precautionary Principle
Given the referendum result’s tiny margin it is not unreasonable to
suppose it may well have been entirely different for any one of several
- The proven lack of any practical or material significance of the margin
- The possibility of electoral fraud
- The evidence of external interference
- The disinformation that characterised the campaign.
Given the momentous and risky decisions that are being built on the
foundations of the referendum it is surely essential for the
Precautionary Principle to be applied to ensure that these foundations
The Precautionary Principle is often invoked to protect the
environment or public health. It is a general principle which clearly
has application in this case of political health. There are many
definitions of the Precautionary Principle. One is “caution practiced in
the context of uncertainty”. That pretty much says it all and spells
out why it is necessary to question the referendum of 2016.
Links to more information
The Referendum Act
The 2016 referendum did not impose any legally binding obligation to
implement the result. It was advisory. The European Referendum Act of
2015 makes no mention of what must happen based on the result, which it
would have needed to do, if it was to be binding. Parliament is
Sovereign unless it explicitly agrees, through an Act of Parliament, to
proceed in a particular way. No MP or indeed anyone can claim otherwise,
but they do. It is a clear unambiguous legal fact which no politician
in the UK has any excuse not to know about and to be familiar with the
details as to why this is the case. They should perhaps read the
Parliamentary Briefing Paper (07212), as well as the High Court
judgement – Miller v Secretary of State (see below).
So, given it was advisory, what was the advice from the people that
emerged from the referendum? Given the tiny and materially insignificant
result, plus the prejudice injected by possible electoral fraud and a
poisonous and deceitful Leave campaign, it is verging on the bleedin’
obvious that the only sensible interpretation of the message from the
people was (is)… we don’t know!
The simple inescapable truth is that the government has no mandate
from the people to take us out of the EU. It must hold a second and
properly constituted referendum.
I recently received an email from the office of Jeremy Corbyn which
states that “Labour respect the referendum result”. No justification is
provided. It is a simple statement that appears to suggest that the
referendum is beyond all possible doubt or discussion. The reason is of
course, that the result is exactly what Mr Corbyn wanted but has never
had the political honesty to clearly articulate.
By simply accepting the referendum result as being the last word on
the matter he is flying in the face of reason, common-sense and good
scientific evidence and is turning his back on Democracy to achieve his
political aims. What is particularly galling is he is doing this while
cynically claiming to be a champion of Democracy. I am not one who
believes that all politicians are as bad as each other. There are many
principled, hard working MPs on the front-benches and the back-benches
in all parties. This is why it is a great shame that the Labour Party is
not currently being led by one of them.
Unfortunately, to ensure a People’s Vote many Labour MPs need to vote
for it. I hope they have the courage to defy Mr Corbyn. As well as
ensuring a People’s Vote it may serve to start the process of repairing
the Labour Party. I have supported Labour for most of my life but have
lost all faith in what it has become under Corbyn. Democracy needs a
united and effective opposition. It is, to quote that sage foody Donald
Trump, … sad.
Recently (2 Sep 2018), writing in the Telegraph, Mrs May states that a second vote would be a “gross betrayal of our democracy”. It is a lesson in how polarised and irrational the whole debate about Brexit has become. One of her own party has quite rightly responded with a succinct: “balderdash”.
Our politicians have a duty to make themselves informed of the facts
and to make informed decisions. Politics should not be about ignorance
and lies. In a stable democracy, progress and change comes through
rational debate and persuasion. What is happening now is simply an
ideological war between two factions where rational debate is regarded
as small-arms fire and the heavy-weapons are ignorance and lies in equal
It is not democracy of any kind. It is not direct democracy as the
people have not been properly consulted, and it is not representative
democracy as Parliament is not being consulted or has a final say.
Also, what is being proposed by Mrs May as a means of protecting and
supporting democracy is to stay in the EU in all but name but to forfeit
all rights to influence it. I’m pretty sure that is not what the people
want or indeed what the referendum was about.
The baleful Mr Farage has said he will re-enter the debate. So we
should all expect the usual posturing arrogant noxious drivel. It is
interestingly similar in bouquet to the exudations of Donald Trump, and
his one time colleague Steve Bannon. The uniting thread is the so called
“popularism agenda” which at its heart is a nasty, insular, racist and
thuggishly ignorant ideology.
The Peoples Vote
So here we are. We should never have ended up in the mess we are in.
It has been a toxic mixture of sheer incompetence and lack of judgement
by some politicians, together with reprehensible deceit, lies and
unforgivable ignorance on the part of others. However, we are where we
are, and the call for another referendum on the outcome of the Brexit
negotiations is the only solution left for the country.
A Peoples Vote is the right thing to do, it is the rational thing to do and it is the democratic thing to do.
A Peoples Vote will require an Act of Parliament. This should not
just be a re-hash of the obviously flawed European Referendum Act of
- It should include a sensible decision threshold so that it is a proper and representative measure of the voice of the people.
- It should include provision for what should happen in the event of a
leave, remain or no-decision vote, so people know exactly what they are
- It needs to allow those over 16 to vote, as was done in the Scottish
referendum. (If you can join the army… you should be able to vote!)