Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit - who will make it happen?

I try mostly to stick to climate at Moyhu, maybe sometimes straying into maths. But I see our contemporaries all have something to say on it - Sou, Stoat, ATTP, Eli, and even Lord M.

One reason why I tend to avoid politics in blogging is that the information content tends to be low. Plenty of other people would say what I would say, and it all gets predictable. But for the record - yes, I think Britain should have stayed in the EU. I'm old enough to remember when Britain originally shied away from EEC membership, and then through the hard work of Ted Heath and others, was able to belatedly join, suffering some disadvantage from the delay. I was actually in Britain in June 1975 when the first ever national referendum was held, getting support for (by then negotiated) EEC membership by 66%.

I think Britain's sparing use of referenda is justified. In Australia we have them fairly frequently. There is provision for them in the constitution, which adds the requirement to succeed that have to get not only a majority of voters, but a majority of states (ie 4 out of 6). Consequently, it takes a substantial majority to succeed.

In this post I don't want to dwell on the rights and wrongs of the actual vote, but just to raise a question that puzzles me. Who will actually implement it? That issue seems to be a tangle built into adding referenda on to parliamentary government. It hasn't affected us much, because referenda only succeed with bipartisan parliamentary support, with the extra burden of 4 states approving. And they tend to be issues which would not anyway affect the fate of governments. We have one coming up on gay marriage. Probably the most noted in recent times was the referendum on becoming a republic. But even if that had passed, it's unlikely that PM Howard, who opposed it, would have felt required to resign.

Anyway, what I'm writing about here is the mechanics. Exiting the EU in a reasonable way will be a very hard task. It will require acts of parliament, some of which may be unpopular. How will it be done?

The customary saying is that the people have spoken, and that is binding. But binding on who, exactly? And are they empowered to make it happen. I'll review the main players involved.

The electorate

No-one even knows hwo voted for it. The electorate cannot be held responsible for its decision. People can and probably will change their minds. As has been said, a large part of the reason that Brexit passed was that people under 25, who opposed it, tended not to vote on June 24. But they are part of the electorate. They may well vote in judgment of the politicians charged to implement it. The electorate is not bound. It's hard to have another referendum to test, but politicians will be acutely conscious of shifts in opinion.

The Parliament

Most of the current parliament opposed Brexit. All parties there except the Tories were Remainders. The Tories were officially neutral, but their leaders were mostly against, notably the PM, Cameron. He announced his intention to resign. Honorable and principled, but also pragmatic. Trying to push through laws that you think will have bad consequences is not a good career move. If by chance the outcome isn't bad, your opponents will get the credit anyway.

So, Cameron says, let someone who thinks this is a good idea take over leadership. Maybe Boris Johnson. But he would be leading just a Tory faction in a hostile House, trying to get controversial laws passed that they oppose. How could he retain the confidence of the House?

The classic remedy for this is an election. Let the people enforce their will by electing a Parliament that will implement it. But will they? Even if they haven't changed their mind (or composition/voters), it has been the case for many years that something like a majority of people are sceptical of the EU, yet for whatever reason, they tend to elect pro-EU parliaments. Why should this change?

And that assumes, again, that the voters haven't changed their mind since June 24. What if they have? There is a referendum decision for which no practical implementation can be made. Not only need the pro-EU pols follow their beliefs - they could also improve their vote.


So what do the European partners do? For now, Britain is a member in good standing. It requires, I gather, an invocation of Article 50 by the British government to start anything. But who will do that? It seems to me irresponsible for Cameron to do so, when he clearly isn't going to follow it up. Nor should his successor, say Boris Johnson, do so without the confidence of the House, and presumably with an affirmative vote from it. It seems to me that that would have to await an election, which might still not return a favorable parliament.

Of course, it is possible that frictions in this limbo period would increase, which would lead to Britain being pushed out. Or the discomfort swaying British voters more in favor of exit. But Angela Merkel seems to think that shouldn't happen, and that may prevail.

So, well, we'll find out. Interesting times.

Incidentally, I see various attempts in some to find a climate politics angle in Brexit. I'm not doing that here, because I don't think there is one.

Update Interesting comment from Lord Heseltine:
Lord Heseltine has pointed to the practicalities of an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons against leaving the EU. “There is a majority of something like 350 in the House of Commons broadly in favour of the European relationship,” he said.

“There is no way you are going to get those people to say black is white and change their minds unless a) they know what the deal is and b) it has been supported either by an election or by another referendum,” Heseltine told Sky News. “So there’s a dramatic urgency to get on with the negotiations.”

He called for a cross-party group of MPs to look at the options and “articulate the case for Britain rethinking the result of the referendum”.


  1. Nick,

    I think you've summed things up pretty well. 

    Essentially the leave prospectus was for  massively less immigration,  more freedom from constraint by other counties,  more spending on the NHS, and free trade delivering a stronger economy. 

    This is essentially a fantasy,  and certainly none of this is actually deliverable via a Brexit; indeed Brexit makes most of it significantly *harder* to make progress on. 

    So we now have a parliament tasked to deliver an impossible dream by an electorate who were manipulated through the campaign by classic nationalist demonisation of foreigners.

    It's impossible to predict how things pan out from here, but I thing two things are near certain: more disillusion with politicians,  and more poverty for the dispossessed whose protest votes ultimately drove the outcome. 

  2. Nick, first of all, congratulations on your summary. I am struck at how well informed bloggers from around during the globe are on this issue. You are right that the instruction "Leave the EU" is far too vague for the politicians to know what strategy to follow.

    You suggest that if the UK delays it could be pushed out by the EU. I'm not sure if they could do that. I think that member countries could be rejected if they, for instance, suspended democracy, or some other glaring breach of the basic rules, but that's not the issue here. That said the uncertainty about the future is liable to cause economic damage. We've already had a large fall in the value of the pound as well as the Ftse 250 index of shares and share prices across Europe. Leaders of the other EU leaders are understandably angry with Britain for this economic damage. I wouldn't be surprised if the UK govt ends up ignoring the "will of the people" and stays in the eu in order to salvage the economy. The predominantly right wing brexiteers would be defeated by the very capitalist system that they like to champion.

  3. I think you're too kind to Cameron, who called this referendum and recklessly gambled with the prosperity and even the future of the UK in order to weaken UKIP and the anti-EU members of his own party and strengthen his position (or so he thought), and then fumbled it.

    The Economist was blunt: "He leaves in ignominy."

    1. Magma,
      I thought his decision to promptly resign and let a Brexiteer try to make it work was principled and correct (but also in his interests). I don't endorse his earlier actions, although I think that an eventual showdown with the anti-EU was inevitable.

    2. But his last chess move was brilliant. By not invoking Article 50 himself, he forces his predecessor to do so. Given that it is not defined what Leave means and everyone voting for Leave had its own fantasy, a Prime Minister invoking Article 50, implementing all the changes, will be highly unpopular and booted out in no time. Most likely, no one will be willing to do that. They will find some excuse. Maybe in a poll showing a lot of regret by the people voting Leave.

      I would not be surprised if the stock markets recovered next week, when the market starts to bet on nothing happening.

    3. Victor,
      I'm not sure what the legalities are, but I think it would be quite improper for a PM to invoke article 50 without the explicit approval of Parliament. And I don't see how this parliament would approve it.

    4. Here in the UK today the fallout has been immense. We basically have no government on this matter and no official opposition either. Cameron has dodged (rightly and cleverly) the issue and left it for those that created the mess to sort it. Jeremy Corbyn is so unpopular with his own MPs that 11 shadow cabinet members have jumped with the promise of more to come. Corbyn was a lukewarm Remainer.

      As for the Leavers, Boris seems to be suggesting that we leave the EU by negotiating for ever closer ties, which might not be what most of the Leave voters thought they were getting. Other Leave promises (explicit or implicit) are being rowed back from faster than the Cambridge eight. It seems that actually immigration won't actually change really. Makes you wonder what the expensive and divisive referendum was for. I remember, it was to shut the Conservative Euro"sceptics" up. That turned out well.

      A wider point: the Leave campaign seemed to be using the tobacco/climate denial handbook for its arguments. They worked. Rational thought would have given a different result. The climate denial and Leave groups were rather intimate, shall we say.

    5. Nick, I think it is not clear who has the power to invoke Article 50, but I agree that the parliament should have a say over something so important.

      It happens more often that a (local) parliament binds itself to the results of a referendum, especially in cases where for legal reasons the referendum is officially not binding (like EU referendum), but parties accept it as binding.

      In this case, with so many MPs against the policy and a very close result, it could happen that the parliament would vote against leaving. That would be an enormous mess, however. And the voters should justifiably be very upset. I would expect that when it becomes clear that might happen, they would prefer any other solution. Like a 2nd referendum, where it is clearer what Leave means.

    6. If the MPs vote against the proposal, they could claim to do so because they do not think that the government proposal for the negotiations with the EU are what the population wanted.

      Whatever the government proposes, that is true for a large part of the population. Interesting times.

    7. "If the MPs vote against the proposal, they could claim to do so..."
      I think many of them could reasonably vote against it, saying that their constituents voted no in the referendum (and they think it is the wrong thing to do). Scots would be in a very strong position there, since they also voted against having a referendum. Others might have to go against the wishes of their constituents, saying that they can't vote for something they believe would be harmful. I think that would work out well for them (and the country) in the end.

    8. If I was a pro-Remain British MP, I would vote against invoking Article 50 on the grounds that the margin in favor of leaving was too small and that the leaders of the Leave campaign knowingly disseminated materially false information on key issues. I would add that in a representative Parliamentary democracy elected members represent the wishes and the needs of their constituents and that in this case setting aside the results of the advisory referendum was the proper thing to do, and if they disagreed they could fire me by way of the ballot box.

      Needless to say I'm not a British MP.

  4. The problem for the UK is uncertainty. And just as in climate, uncertainty is not their friend.

    The effects of uncertainty are already being seen. Brad DeLong links to Dan Davies.

    This will continue until a decision is made one way or the other. It is in the UK's best interest to get this over with as quickly as possible. Only until details of a new trade relationship are known (or Brexit is discarded and accepted by the populace) can business as usual return. Until then companies that might be impacted by a new relationship between the UK and the EU are going to have to evaluate risk.

    Sunday has seen Goldman Sachs analysts releasing their projection that now has the UK going into recession in early 2017.

    Futures markets are responding as one might expect; equities down, pound down, dollar up.

    Laurel and Hardy ought to be running non-stop on the BBC. "Well , here's another fine mess you've gotten us into "

  5. When reading french or german newspapers these days, the major line is what they heard from their UK antennas: "Youth wanted to keep in, seniors choosed the exit".

    Scotland was clearly again that nonsense too.

  6. Nick, I see you've tried to explain (at WTFUWT) the observed wavy patterns in the equatorial Pacific as the simple result of a vortex sheet arising from a westward jet. This phenomena is actually a bit more complex, especially if you want to explain the time and length scales. Look up "Legeckis waves" or "Tropical instability waves". George Philander had a look at them (way back when) and they are still being investigated, no doubt. They are very much an emergent feature of any ocean model that starts resolving stuff like this too. No tuning required!


    1. R. said:
      "They are very much an emergent feature of any ocean model that starts resolving stuff like this too. No tuning required! "

      I am glad that you mentioned this.

      Every change in behavior appears unusual because the models can’t capture it effectively. Blame it on Richard Lindzen, ever since he made the model of atmospheric winds over-the-top complicated. Anybody that understands calculus can work out the equations and apply simplifications that will lead to something that we can actually work with:

      And you mention emergent features from complex global models. This is really nuts when you compare the simplicity and effectiveness of my model with a recent peer-reviewed article on QBO by Geller and a team of a dozen scientists:

      Those research results by Geller arise as a consequence of tuning. They claim the period of QBO is a function of pressure, which is tuned. That's emergent behavior from a global climate model, but I think it's a misguided approach!

    2. Thanks, Anon. Wiki has an article on tropical instability waves here. I did say that it was like a vortex street; that was describing its appearance. But I think the I in TIW is indeed a Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, which was my explanation.

      And WHUT, GCMs do seem to be able to reproduce the pattern. Here is GFDL.

    3. That's way too complicated. Sure they can emulate any behavior because they have all those degrees of freedom at their disposal. Yet they can't come up with a concise model that describes something as basic as QBO. Gotta face that this is better ammunition than any GCM, because it reduces the uncertainty by leaps and bounds.

    4. The key is to model the fundamentals first and then get to more complicated stuff. Ever since Richard Lindzen claimed to have a solid theory for QBO back in the late 1960's, scientists have made limited advances. For example, the consensus is still that like ENSO, QBO behavior can not be predicted more than a year or two in advance.

      Yet QBO is obviously a periodic system, I believe not borne from some emergent properties of a resonant system, but more than likely the result of periodic lunisolar forcing. So it should be predictable, alas, there is no published research to support that idea.

      So because of that limited knowledge, you have people like Paul Beckwith making wild claims about the jet-stream crossing the equator.

      I think Beckwith was partly baited into this by a several atmospheric sciences grad students that had been tweeting about what they were seeing and getting all excited.

      The reason I keep commenting here is that I know that Nick is one of the few people that has the background and experience to provide useful feedback. So here again is a nice derivation that does what Lindzen tried to do over 40 years ago, but with much more plausible and results.

      This is so obviously a lunisolar forcing with all the attendant predictability that would imply.

      Cheers, and if anyone wants to contribute to a discussion, I believe anybody can still register to comment on a level playing field at the Azimuth Forum.

  7. ....just to raise a question that puzzles me. Who will actually implement it?...

    The implementation process has actually been worked out in detail by Leave activists (google 'Flexit') but it was intentionally avoided by the politicians, who wanted to use 'It's a step into the unknown' as part of 'Project Fear'.

    Polls show that the overwhelming issue which drove the 'Leave' vote was sovereignty - that is 'who governs us?' The people (52%!) want to be governed by the British Parliament - but the Parliament want to pass this responsibility to the EU. For the MPs, they will get more money and less responsibility through the EU route, but note that most constituencies in Britain (around 70%) actually voted Leave. Ignoring constituents works well except at election time....

    1. "... worked out in detail by Leave activists"

      Oh, ha ha. Don't be so silly. That is just making things up.

    2. "... worked out in detail by Leave activists"

      Oh, ha ha. Don't be so silly. That is just making things up.

    3. ...Oh, ha ha. Don't be so silly. That is just making things up....

      If it is beyond your capability to use Google when you are given a specific reference, I will add the URL here:

      Rumoured to be required reading for the Treasury, this is one of the documents which go to make up the Harrogate Agenda, one of the Leave Activists groupings. Several years of work have gone into it. Read it.

    4. Oh ha ha. Looks like it was thrown together 3 weeks after the referendum as it is dated 16th July 2016.

    5. Oh ha ha. Looks like it was thrown together 3 weeks after the referendum as it is dated 16th July 2016.