The will of the British people?
Lately, not a day goes by that I don’t hear people — MPs, the media as well as the general public — talking about ‘the will of the British people’, in reference to the ‘leave’ majority in June 2016.
Being an Italian in London, after making this country my home back in 2004, it won’t come as a surprise that I’m in the ‘remainer’ camp, yet my aim here is to lay out some observations about all ‘will of the people’ claims whilst trying to remain politically neutral about it and not let my feelings and views interfere.
Firstly, the outcome of the referendum was 51.9% vs 48.1% — more of a narrow win rather than a clean sweep. Taking into consideration the electorate turnout further diminishes the claim that the ‘leave’ vote represents the British will:
Rejected ballots 26,033
Taking away the rejected ballots the amount of people that voted is 33,547,863.002. The population of Britain today is approx 64 million, so the number of people that voted is about half. Of that half:
17,410,742 people voted leave
16,141,241 people voted remain
12,949,258 did not vote or had their ballots rejected.
So when people speak of ‘the will of the people’ what they are actually referring to are the 17,410,742 people that voted to leave, hardly representative of the will of the British people.
Looking more closely at the results, we can see a huge geographical difference in the way people voted, so whilst England and Wales voted to leave (both fairly narrow wins), Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain (and in this case the difference was actually higher as the ‘leave camp’ failed to reach 45% of the votes). In England, local results also show a division between rural and urban areas.
Another point to note is that today, 7 months after the referendum, we could have a very different result. Profiles of the typical leave & remain voter show that the older generation tended to favour to go out of the European Union, whilst the younger generation preferred to stay in. How many people that were 17 back in June would be able to vote today? How many older people that voted to leave in June are no longer with us today? Projections from the Financial Times show that the result could be reversed by 2021 simply by taking into consideration the age structure of voters.
Psephology is the study of the elections and trends in voting. Whilst in the past people tended to stick to their party all their life, today things are very different and the failure of recent polls to correctly forecast results is proof. Today people’s choices in voting are more volatile and can change overnight. Perhaps this is another point to take into account when talking about ‘the will of the British people’.
I am not arguing against Brexit — it has been difficult but I have come to accept that it’s going to happen. What I find frustrating though is people talking about ‘the will of the British people’ when this is not the case at all. I am Italian and was not able to vote, but the majority of British people I know, friends and family, have not voted to leave so how can Brexit represent the will of the British people?
These numbers instead represent a very divided country and at the moment no one seems to be able to represent the interests of the 16,141,241 people that voted to remain. MPs appear to be too concerned to keep their seats and by doing so they are letting a large portion of ‘the British will’ down. It might not sound as grand but instead of ‘the will of the British people’, people should really say ‘the will of the 17million+, most likely the older generation living in rural England and Wales that voted and won the referendum back in June 2016’, which is certainly more appropriate.