Brexit Referendum was Not a Binary Choice

By | January 30, 2019

Thomas Colignatus wrote a criticism of the Brexit referendum to remain/leave the European Union demonstrating that it was not a binary choice to remain/leave, it was more complex than that so the questions on the ballot paper did not represent the real situation. There have been articles responding to this.

As was clear from the start of the campaign the choices were essentially:
1. Remain – in current regulations, UK law.
2. Leave – to World Trade Organisation tariffs, hard border in Ireland (No deal).
3. Leave – to Customs Union or Single Market or both, soft border in Ireland.
4. Leave – to new negotiated customs and trade arrangements/regulations, soft border in Ireland.

There is nothing intrinsic to prevent a referendum being presented in this multiple-choice way. The legislation proposing the referendum simply needs to state how the winner is determined. Brexiteers would not accept this because it would split the Leave vote, which is of course in reality split!

We are familiar with this type of vote – it’s called a General Election. We do not have General Elections with options: 1. The Government, 2. The Opposition; because the opposition is not one option, it is split between different parties which contain similar and dissimilar policies. Those parties are represented on the ballot paper separately. The structure behind the options in General Elections, i.e. multiple options representing parties + independents, is the same as existed for the Brexit Referendum – options 1-4 above. Hence the nature of the referendum should have been the same or similar to a general election.

There is no evidence that the coming together of the Brexiteers to send Mrs. May to renegotiate her deal represents a change in the positions of the different factions, that they are no longer split. It is difficult to see how the Brexiteers’ demand to remove the Ireland border ‘backstop’ can be consistent with Mrs May’s red-line on a soft border in Ireland under all circumstances – including failure of trade negotiations, which is also the Irish government’s position. Fighting for incompatible positions is not useful!

One thought on “Brexit Referendum was Not a Binary Choice

  1. projectm

    Did you spot the Straw Man – well actually it was an “Iron Man”?

    Logicians recognise a straw man fallacy as where a weaker version of an opponent’s argument is put up, attributed to the opponent, and then knocked down, making it appear that the opponent’s real argument has been destroyed.

    The opposite fallacy to that is the Iron Man, where a stronger (easier to defend) version of one’s own argument is proposed, even though it is not available or not possible, in the hope that it will cause one’s own argument to be accepted (eg in a vote).

    So, did you spot the Iron Man fallacy embedded in the 2016 referendum question? It was there, as a careful examination of the question shows.

    The result of using the Iron Man fallacy in the referendum question was to pull a very smooth and impressive magician’s trick. At first glance the question looks simple, obvious and harmless, so why is it so fatally flawed? One of its “halves”, the Remain option, is solid enough, but what about the other “half”, the Leave option?

    Well, what actually is “Leave”? The word alone means nothing. It can only have any actual meaning here when it is expanded into something that might actually exist, and thus might actually be fit to be voted on.

    For instance, no “Leave” option can exist unless it is an actual deal agreed by the UK Government, by the UK Parliament, and by the EU, (though the “No Deal” option is the exception, and does not need EU agreement). So, the only one of the many conceivable Leave choices that could realistically be pitted against the Remain option in a fair referendum is whichever of the above ends up as the Last Brexit Deal standing.

    However, the referendum ignored all these logical constraints and committed the Iron Man fallacy, and the result was a referendum that delivered a result (it was always going to do that), but one that is unfair, illogical and undemocratic. The referendum was totally unfit for purpose, and yet the magician’s clever trick went unseen by most people.

    It was fatally flawed, though, and cannot serve as the basis for any justifiable action. For instance, its first effect was the immediate expulsion of the Remain option from the fight, which was unfair at that beginning stage. Also, it forced the UK down the narrow, dark and stony path of trying to find the last Brexit Deal (LBD) standing (with no escape possible), and then to declare this unopposed, and therefore the overall winner.

    Nonsense! The only worthy and defensible winner would be the one that came out of a referendum that pitted the Remain option equally against the fully explained and finalised Last Brexit Deal standing. Of course, since the LBD can only emerge at the end of the info gathering and deal agreeing phase, then the only possible place for this fair and democratic referendum is at the very end of that phase, not at the very start of it.

    Not convinced? Ask yourself a few questions, such as two years ago did we vote for (or had we even heard of) an Irish backstop, or a “No Deal” exit, etc.? How on earth could we have been an adequately informed electorate before any info gathering or deal agreeing had even started? So how could a flawed referendum, run before any info was gathered or distributed, be allowed to stand? It is a travesty of the democratic process. Holding this proper referendum now (ie when LBD emerges) would restore democracy, not threaten it.

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