Brexit, identity crisis, and the unlikely case of second referendum

Feb 28, 2019 · 4 min read

We reviewed the network structure composed of major political figures from UK, and compare it to our original report written in January(here) discovered some interesting insights.

Brexit showdown, who remains on the list?

We noticed some people have become more relevant over the past month in news/comments/social networks; those people are:

  1. Iain Duncan Smith (UK Brexit negotiator in EU)
  2. Gordon Brown (ex-PM from the Labour Party, supports extension)
  3. Greg Clark (May’s Cabinet member)
  4. William Hague (Ex-leader of the Conservative Party, tries to avoid hard Brexit and supports May)
  5. Oliver Letwin
  6. Chris Grayling
  7. Michael Howard
  8. Michael Fallon

On the other hand, others have lost their ways during last month. These people are:

  1. Caroline Flint (hardline Remainer from the Labour Party)
  2. John Redwood (hardline Brexiter from the Conservative Party)
  3. John McDonnell
  4. Nigel Farage (hardline Brexiter from UKIP)
  5. Nicola Sturgeon (hardline Remainer from SNP)
  6. Jacob Rees-Mogg (hardline Brexiter from the Conservative Party)
  7. Ruth Davidson (SNP)
  8. Arlene Foster
  9. Alex Salmond (SNP)
  10. Paul Dacre

We think the change in relevancy for people listed above is favoring PM Theresa May because hardline Brexiters (Nigel FarageJacob Rees-Mogg) and Remainers (Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson) are losing momentum, while technocrat/diplomat like Iain Duncan Smith is gaining traction. We believe the meta has shifted to become more pragmatic.

According to the changes above, we think a consensus or unity has formed around May over the past month, and the breakaway of “The Independent Group is a reaction of such shifting.

Remain-friendly rebels from both parties formed a political alliance, leaving those who remain in the Labour Party look indistinguishable from the Conservative Party regarding their stance on Brexit.

We see an interesting situation that all the major members from the Labour Party are now grouped with the Conservative Party as one big group according to our system, which means the public news/comments/discussion don’t see much difference between May’s Tories and Corbyn’s Labour Party.

While in the last month, our system was pretty able to distinguish the two.

We think the Independent Group has not tilted the balance of Brexit into a more Remain-friendly fashion but accidentally created an identity crisis for the Labour Party, making the opposition look even weaker. The Labour Party may be forced to distance itself to the Tories or risk being perceived as the top endorser of PM May.

People are not happy about the progress of Brexit, nor about the prospect of a 2nd referendum.

Corbyn appeared to realize the situation regarding this identity crisis and has increasingly talked about the feasibility of the 2nd referendum. However, with people supporting 2nd referendum losing momentum and Tories showing more and more unity, it’s unlikely 2nd referendum could ascend to actions from words.

Besides, noting from our social listening tools, it is clear that the public doesn’t welcome a second referendum, even though they also don’t like the current deal with the EU.

May seems determined to keep trying to push for getting approval from Parliament, but the largest consensus we see now is still an extension.

With the March 29 due date rapidly approaching, the UK government appears to have no choice but to extend the deadline to avoid hard Brexit. In late 2018, the government has failed to campaign for MPs to vote for May’s version of Brexit proposal. However, the government now looks to be determined to get the bill pass before March 29 as parliament so far has opposed the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal, but never want to consider extending the deadline, effectively forcing the public the accept the current proposal, which has been soundly defeated in January.

Interestingly, the intention of forcing the bill and not extend the deadline for further negotiation, has slowly but surely starting to hurt May’s support, and could signal further political and financial volatility before March 29. Textual data we collect shows that Brexit related sentiments from both news and user comments have begun trending lower lately. More interestingly, sentiments on referendum and conservatives from user comments have also dropped. Even with unity is growing among Tories, but pushing for the vote to be passed is still more than challenging. We gauge extension is the second best option for May.

The public would prefer a pushback for the March 29 deadline date. The idea was gaining traction in January when May was defeated in parliament, and sentiment on Brexit, referendum, and conservatives were all trending positively from January to early February as leaders from EU such as Macron shows the willingness to push back the deadline. However, it is starting to become clear that the government doesn’t want to extend the deadline and will attempt to vote again for the Brexit bill in the near future. The negative sentiment on Brexit looks to continue unless the government change course and recognize that extending the deadline is their best option. Until then, we expect more UK political risk and financial volatility (currency, equity, interest rate downside risk).

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