Options to Remain

An option to remain in the EU is an essential part of any people’s vote. But should it be just one option? That immediately creates a disadvantage compared to the Brexiters, who habitually have at least two options on the table – for example, a negotiated settlement or leaving with no deal.

On the surface of it, a 3-way vote might seem workable:

  • Remain in the EU
  • Accent the negotiated settlement
  • Leave with no deal

Indeed, some might argue this would favour Remain, since the Leave vote would be split. If the alterative voting system were employed, whereby voters for the least popular option were reassigned to their second favourite choice, Remain could again prevail, at least in theory.

Assuming for instance that the vote was 50% remain, 40% negotiated settlement and 10% no deal. If just 2% of the no deal voters selected remain as their second choice, reassignment would put remain on 52, negotiated settlement on 48, a victory for Remain.

Unfortunately the situation is not that simple. The number of remain and leave votes is not fixed, but heavily influenced by the number of choices and the exact way the question is phrased. The more choice options, the more votes.

To illustrate the issues here, imagine you did a quick survey of the people’s view of whether the world is round or flat. Very few would say it is flat. But suppose now that the government launched a referendum asking the same question. You
would find many more ‘flat’ responses, especially if the newspapers ran a campaign discrediting experts and scientists.

No matter what the proposition, people flock naturally to opposing sides, like supporters at a football match, and the result can be a close-run thing, as we saw both in American presidential election and the Brexit referendum.

So how could you elicit a more sensible answer from the public? One way would be to offer a number of choices, such as

  • The world is round
  • The world is roughly like a ball
  • The world is approximately a sphere
  • The world is a sphere flattened at the poles
  • The world is flat

In this situation, the number of flat-Earthists comes down considerably.

Compared to Brexit, flat-Earthism has a lot going for it. It doesn’t tank the economy or produce hate crimes or compromise the country’s future. The distinguishing feature of Brexit is its destructiveness, and oddly, that is also the secret of its appeal.

Why would destructiveness appeal? For the same reason people were fascinated by the Great Train Robbery. It was bold, daring, and devil-may-care. As I observed previously in these pages, this is where leavers have always tended to score over remainers, who are too quiet and civilised for their own good. Where Arron Banks lifts two fingers to parliament and Boris Johnson throws vulgar insults to business, Dominic Grieve pleads for a gentler style of politics and retreats to compromise.

Time to fight back. I’m not suggesting that EU supporters debase themselves to the level of Johnson or Farage, but they could take a leaf out of the Brexiter success formula – aggression, confidence, brazen cheek. If there are two options for leaving the EU, there should be two options for remaining, and if one of them is a bit outrageous, all the better. How about:

  • Remain in the EU and apply to join the Eurozone
  • Remain in the EU on present terms
  • Leave with the negotiated settlement
  • Leave with no deal

Here the more extreme options on both sides are countered by a more moderate choice. The two arms are balanced, giving a fairer chance of Remain winning.

* John King is a retired doctor and Remain campaigner.

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50 Comments

  • Peter Martin 2nd Jul '18 - 8:34am

    “Remain in the EU and apply to join the Eurozone”

    Why is this an “extreme option”? Getting the eurozone to function effectively should be the EU’s top priority. A poorly performing economic system in Europe creates the conditions for high levels of asymmetric migration and means EU countries are poor markets for British exporters. A trade deficit nearly always translates into a budget deficit too. We run a rising surplus in trade with the ROW. We aren’t anywhere near as hopeless as some would have us all believe!

    It should also be the top priority for UK supporters of the EU. We aren’t going to have any say in eurozone policies if we don’t use the currency ourselves.

    So the sensible options are:

    1) Be an enthusiastic member of the EU. Adopt the euro and Schengen. Give up all our negotiated opt outs. Help fix its problems.

    2) Give up on the EU. Put as much economic distance between ourselves and a failing experiment as possible.

    I’m for the latter but if enough people were in favour of the former I could be convinced otherwise.

  • But Peter, Tinkerbell is now pushing the Norway option ( or at least floating the prospect in the Times). How ironic if true going from a rule maker to a taker, still with free movement and the only up side is Nigel and co are out of a job.
    It appears that as the Brexiteers where long ago warned Mr Bunn the Baker, a Joker and a couple of Pokemon cards don’t beat four aces and a King.

  • So how could you elicit a more sensible answer from the public?

    Perhaps the public might not like feeling as if they are being ‘managed’ to try to get them to give what you have decided in advance is a ‘sensible answer’?

  • There is no reason why we should not have another referendum. Except that the last one was followed by continuing chaos and confusion. We really need a policy on when we should use them, who writes the question and so on.
    In the meanwhile we are facing a messy collapse in our negotiations. As a party there is a need to work out what our policy will be in the event of chaos and no referendum. That means finding agreeing to work out a campaign based on the real needs of people under pressure in our country. We need to tie it in to the insecure working conditions, the housing crisis and so on.
    By all means talk about the need for a referendum,but in the meanwhile we need to talk about the problems caused by a government in meltdown.

  • Surely any referendum which includes even one ‘Remain’ option will be seen as telling people, ‘Look, we know you were stupid, now vote again and do it properly this time’?

    And will therefore be likely to produce an even bigger Leave majority, as people don’t like being told what to do and will react against it?

  • Well Dev if a second referendum is a shoe in for leave why don’t the Brexiteers want one?
    It would appear Tinkerbell is still in cake mode, this will not end well eventually the cake will hit the hard wall of fact and the splattering will be of epic proportions.

  • if a second referendum is a shoe in for leave why don’t the Brexiteers want one?

    Because it would be expensive, pointless, a waste of time, and just stir up even more bad feeling and division among different bits of the country than the last one?

  • (not to mention it would appear to concede the principle that there was something wrong with the way the people voted last time)

  • Dav,

    Unfortunately for the “Leave” fanatics, the fact of the matter is that the majority of the people now see that leaving the EU would be the wrong thing to do(see all the more recent Yougov polls), so not to include Remain as an option would only be because the Leave fanatics want to “fix” the result! Get ready for it. The People’s Vote WILL happen!

  • Reading some comments it appears that the only referendum questions that would satisfy the die hards are…
    Option 1) remain in the EU
    Option 2) remain in the EU

  • paul barker 2nd Jul '18 - 9:25pm

    Surely we already have a policy on Referenda, Against. The only situations where Referenda are a good idea is if Democracy has already broken down or, as in Northern Ireland where it never worked in the first place.
    The argument for a “2nd” Referendum on Brexit is that the 1st broke our Democratic system. Both Major Parties are split on Brexit & no other Parties are strong enough to challenge them, so General Election become useless, as last Year demonstrated.
    Another Referendum may provide a way out of the mess weve got ourselves into, its worth pursuing at least. Alternatively & preferably, Parliament itself might act, if enough MPs can grow spines in time.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Jul '18 - 10:30pm

    I’m pretty sure there would be an increased majority for Leave if we had another referendum. Everyone would know that we were only getting a second one because the establishment didn’t like the result of the first one. There would never again be another chance to say Nein Danke to the EU.

    But that doesn’t mean we should have one. If England lose on Tuesday, what are we going to do? Ask for the match to be played again? Say the result was only advisory and so FIFA should ignore it and let England go through?

    It may seem absurd to more high minded political types in the progressive educated establishment, who don’t at all agree with allowing the hoi polloi to settle important affairs of state, to compare the referendum result with a football match but this will be the way most people will see it.

    Even if I’m wrong, and Remain do manage a narrow win, the divisions in society will be deepened. The Leave side will feel cheated. It’s bad enough now but it would be horrendous if that were to happen.

    The only way out would be if the EU were to offer the UK a new deal that the overwhelming majority of voters could support. That doesn’t seem too likely at the moment.

  • >Gina Miller for example shrinks away from this issue.
    And quite rightly so, I’ve always been of the opinion that whilst Gina thought Brexit was daft, the really important issue was getting Westminster/Parliament to actually do their day job and not just hold the Executive to account, but to actually wield the power that they currently seem to deferentially give to the Executive.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Jul '18 - 11:14pm

    @paul barker “Surely we already have a policy on Referenda, Against.”
    Since when have Lib Dems been against referendums?
    Until one came along, the party was calling for an in/out referendum on EU membership with some front-benchers stepping down because they supported a referendum on just the Lisbon treaty instead (and since the 2016 referendum the party has been calling loudly for another one). In 2010 the party manifesto also offered referendums on joining the euro and a written constitution, and in Coalition the party delivered referendums on Scottish independence, Welsh devolution and AV.
    Far from being averse to them, referendums seem to have been Lib Dems’ democratic weapon of choice for a long time, and that feels like a sensible approach for important issues that transcend traditional party lines.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Jul '18 - 11:39pm

    @Peter Martin “Even if I’m wrong, and Remain do manage a narrow win, the divisions in society will be deepened.”
    Regardless of whether one supports or opposes Brexit, there is a very important issue and serious risk here.
    As an instinctive Remainer, I have long complained about the negative Remain campaign that failed in 2016 and which has continued to be the strategy ever since. The positive case for EU membership has still not been made well and if Brexit is halted by another In/Out referendum (or even by MPs) I fear that it will look like a dismal failure by the British people and its government rather than a positive and final resolution. I would much prefer to see the UK choose to be in the EU for good reasons rather than because of feeling weak and fearful of life outside it, but that is not a vision that the Remain campaign has offered.

  • Matt (bristol) 3rd Jul '18 - 12:43am

    I think it’s entirely viable that someone (Corbyn? May? Whoever inherits the Tory mess?) will eventually at some point before the transition period ends, finally concede a second referendum of sorts. I do strongly suspect that it will be another artificial two-option referendum and it won’t include returning to full membership.

    It might be Norway-model versus no deal, for eg…

  • William Fowler 3rd Jul '18 - 7:11am

    You need two sets of question, the first stay in or leave, the second the options for leaving…

  • I presume you mean the options for leaving or remaining, William? As I explain in the article, increasing the choices in the direction of Leave at the expense of Remain is a sure fire way for Leave to win. It would be a rigged result, and Remainers should take care not to fall into such a trap, were it ever seriously proposed.

  • I presume you mean the options for leaving or remaining, William?

    No, that would have been dealt with by the first question.

    It seems from some of the comments here (and the article itself) that some people are seeing this not as an exercise in how to ask the people a question to find out what it really wants, but rather as a challenge as to how to manipulate the electorate in order to get their own preferred answer (of Remain). Would that be fair to say?

    Far from being averse to them, referendums seem to have been Lib Dems’ democratic weapon of choice for a long time

    The Liberal Democrat attitude to referendums seems to be in favour of them when they think they will get the ‘right’ result, against them when they won’t.

    It’a almost like they don’t care about the principles, just about obtaining their goal by any means (whether that be proportional representation, staying in the EU, joining the Euro, having a written constitution, or what).

  • Peter Martin 3rd Jul '18 - 9:45am

    “The Liberal Democrat attitude to referendums seems to be in favour of them when they think they will get the ‘right’ result, against them when they won’t.”

    This would at least seem to be the product of some rational thought!

    However, I’m not sure anyone could be totally sure of the outcome when the enabling Bill for the referendum was passed by a margin of around 6:1 in early 2016.

    So why did most Remainers vote for it to happen?

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jul '18 - 9:57am

    @Peter Martin “So why did most Remainers vote for it to happen?”
    Because, right up to the day of the referendum, they were certain that the electorate would choose Remain when push came to shove.
    That’s also the only reason I can come up with for the Lib Dem insistence that any closer integration should have been addressed by a referendum on “the big question of in or out”.
    For me, the saddest aspect is not the result of the referendum per se but the massive gulf that it highlighted between politicians (in general, and Lib Dems in particular) and the people they purport to represent.

  • the majority of the people now see that leaving the EU would be the wrong thing to do(see all the more recent Yougov polls),

    Would these be the same polls which were confidently predicting a Remain win right up until after the polls closed two years ago?

  • Peter Martin 3rd Jul '18 - 10:17am

    @ Peter Watson,

    You’re very likely right. But if MPs had dropped into my local pub to canvass opinion they would have known that the referendum result was by no means going to be a foregone conclusion.

    Even when the polls were still predicting a remain win, I had the evidence of my own eyes that Leave posters, in the windows and front gardens of my constituency, far outnumbered Remain posters. I’d say by a margin of about 10:1 !

    So what on earth were they thinking?

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jul '18 - 11:10am

    @Peter Martin “Even when the polls were still predicting a remain win, I had the evidence of my own eyes …”
    I have only placed one bet in my life. The day before the Referendum I bet £100 at 3:1 that the result would be a Brexit win. I could see that the predictions of the “experts” were wrong and that confidence was being placed in polls in which inevitably Brexiters, depicted as old uneducated racists, would be shy about declaring their opinions. I’ve no reason to believe the polls are any less inaccurate now.
    On the day of the referendum, as the pound rose (probably on the back of exit polling commissioned by financial wheelers and dealers) the odds lengthened to 4.5:1 or more (I wish I’d had the nerve to place my second bet!). Then, as the first results came in, Remain victories but by a smaller margin than expected, the wheels started coming off the wagons for the financial speculators who had gambled orders of magnitude more than me but who had backed the wrong horse.
    A few hundred quid was small compensation for the result I had not wanted, but it has been so bitterly disappointing to see the same dismal failed Remain strategy stretched out for two years since then without Remain campaigners (especially Lib Dems) taking the opportunity to rethink their approach and try to reconnect with voters who they had perhaps taken for granted or alienated previously.

  • In polls since the mid-nineties, there has been a consistent majority of those polled who supported the options that the UK should either ‘Leave the EU’ or ‘Remain but take back significant powers from the EU’.

    Cameron’s gamble was that while those in the former group would vote Leave no matter what, those in the latter — bigger — group would, when the chips were down, and it became clear that taking back powers was not compatible with remaining in the EU, flip to Remain out of fear of the economic consequences of leaving.

    In the event, some of them probably did, but not enough.

  • I voted leave, but only met a scattering of other leave voters. It depended what circles you moved in. .
    The assumption with Brexit was that voters in Labour areas would do as they were told’. Cameron and the left leaning press knew full well that a majority of conservative leaning areas would vote leave even though he was campaigning for remain. The point being that “working classes” are supposed to follow the orders of their “commanders” as if they are a kind of army. Hence after the result came in there were claims of “howl of rage”, “protest votes”, people “not knowing what they were voting for” and being lead to mutiny by “the press” or “the Russians” or anything rather than contemplate the possibility that people do not really elect leaders, not even if their incomes on the low side. Maybe the real gulf faced by the political classes is between the belief that that they are in a meaningful sense leaders and the uncertain far less powerful reality that they are just people who happened to get elected in a representative democracy,

  • Peter Martin 3rd Jul '18 - 2:23pm

    “The point being that “working classes” are supposed to follow the orders of their “commanders” as if they are a kind of army.”

    To some extent. Labour voters generally don’t like what may be described as ‘smart youngsters’ often with PPEs from Oxford, and usually the right London connections, being ‘parachuted’ into safe Labour constituencies. But after a fair bit of grumbling and if the smart new young candidate is smart enough to say the right things, at the right time, making local connections too, the Labour voters usually will toe the line.

    But that doesn’t mean they’ll vote for the EU just because the party is supposedly for it. Many in the party are against it, and they consider that if it is OK for Dennis Skinner to be against it, and it was OK for Jeremy Corbyn too, at one time, then they also should be able to vote the way they want.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jul '18 - 3:53pm

    @David Raw “If that is a genuine comment …”
    When I read it, I interpreted it as Glenn ascribing the “patronising load of rollocks” to Cameron and others in those “isolated elevated circles” rather than believing it himself.

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Jul '18 - 5:28pm

    Without knowing the precise details of any deal, it is not easy to frame a referendum. Remaining in the eu must be an option as would the deal on offer. Reopening negotiations, whatever that would mean might be another. This would be a stronger mandate than the previous vote. Leaving with no deal would be stupid with a deal on offer though it might split the Brexit vote. It must give sufficient space for the electorate to express their view so perhaps a ten or so question vote using stv and preferential voting might be best.

  • While discussing referendum is very interesting of much more interest nay relevance is what is the Brexit plan. Plenty of self confessed Brexiteers on here, so go on what’s the plan; surely you couldn’t have voted for something without knowing the plan!

  • Plenty of self confessed Brexiteers on here, so go on what’s the plan; surely you couldn’t have voted for something without knowing the plan!

    Can I ask what was the Remain plan, then?

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jul '18 - 10:45pm

    @frankie “surely you couldn’t have voted for something without knowing the plan!”
    Though it turned out that’s exactly what I did in 2010! 🙁

  • David Raw
    I’m not saying that the working classes are should ” take orders”, but that this is the patronising idea behind a lot of the shocked post Brexit analyse of the vote in places like Sunderland and some of the campaigning. A lot of the “leave voters will suffer the most” type stuff is very class based, Read the context, instead of jumping on one sentence out of context. And as I said I’m a leave voter. I think the people who voted out of the EU whatever their job, or lack of job, age, financial position, education level, wherever they lived and so on got it about right. I mix in very liberal circles, so I was pretty much the only leave voter in the village and was very shocked and very pleased with result.
    Joseph Burke.
    Personally, I don’t buy the idea that we are all middle class now. Average jobs haven’t shifted “upwards” in social status, they’ve actually gone down. We live in a service industry economy, with little job stability, reduced powers of collective bargaining, decreasing social mobility, wages that barely cover housing costs and so on. That to me does not suggest that we are “all middle class, now”, but something closer to a reinvention of serfdom.

  • Peter Martin 4th Jul '18 - 8:23am

    @ Frankie,

    “surely you couldn’t have voted for something without knowing the plan!”

    Besides the example already given by Peter Watson, we can add the millions of voters who, in the 1975 referendum, voted to stay in the then Common Market or EEC. The ‘out’ side tried to give warnings that the PTB in ‘Europe’ didn’t just want a free trade zone. They wanted much more than that. They did, indeed, have a plan but denied its existence. Warnings were dismissed as ‘scaremongering’ at the time.

  • Glenn 4th Jul ’18 – 12:54am….

    Around the same proportion of Labour supporters voted ‘Remain’ as did LibDems.

    The vote was more based on age and qualification than on political allegiance. Most pensioners voted ‘Leave’ and, as a 75yo, my experience is that my age group are far more likely to vote Tory, have left school at 15 with no qualifications and hanker for a golden age (that never really existed), where being British was enough.

  • Expats.
    I am not interested in anyone’s qualification or party allegiances . What I’m talking about is the way Cameron seemed to assume Labour could deliver the remain vote, when he new full well that he couldn’t and the often class based bitterness of remain camp post Brexit. Older voters are more like to consistently vote. Full stop. It’s true of Labour an Lib Dem voters. As I said I’m very pleased with the way the vote went, so if pensioners were more likely to vote leave than remain, then I see it as a plus not a negative.
    As for the golden age stuff. I don’t think the economic record of common market to EU has actually been that good, either. Plus it has been very bad for politics, because the concentration on technocratic solutions reduces the influence of the electorate on their elected representatives. It might sound illiberal, but I actually think the electorate should be the first priority of the political system and that the notion of representative democracy as representing voters has been somewhat lost. IMO, especially in organisations like the EU, their has been an attempt to turn voters into part of the ratifying mechanism of government rather than the point of government.

  • has been an attempt to turn voters into part of the ratifying mechanism of government rather than the point of government

    Actually it’s worse than that: if the voters had a ratification function then they could reject whatever they were asked to ratify.

    But that is not acceptable to the elites: they don’t want to voter to ratify their decisions, because that would imply giving their assent, and the elites don’t frankly care whether the voters assent or not.

    What they want is for the voters to simply rubber-stamp whatever they have already decided is the correct, ‘liberal’, solution.

    So the voters become a bit like Her Majesty: in theory their consent is required for laws, but if they were to ever actually withhold that consent, they would pretty quickly find that power removed.

  • Glenn 4th Jul ’18 – 9:55am……………….Expats.I am not interested in anyone’s qualification or party allegiances . What I’m talking about is the way Cameron seemed to assume Labour could deliver the remain vote, when he new full well that he couldn’t and the often class based bitterness of remain camp post Brexit………..

    I don’t believe that Cameron counted on anything outside his own clique, certainly not ‘Labour’ voters. The whole episode was driven by his fear of the ‘right’ within his own party and the perceived threat of UKIP. I feel that those around Cameron ignored H.L. Mencken’s most famous adage and were far too complacent in believing the population would see the ‘unicorn and faerie gold’ promises of the ‘Leave’ campaign for the lies they were. Almost the whole ‘Remain’ campaign allowed the ‘Devil the best tunes’ and suffered accordingly.

  • Expats
    Unicorns and Fairies! Really? I won’t respond to that kind of thing.

  • The people see and must and will accept that an “instruction” to an unwilling or unqualified executive is not actionable

    ‘…Would it not be easier
    In that case for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another?’

  • Teresa Wilson 6th Jul '18 - 9:36pm

    @Richard O’Neill

    It isn’t up to the Peoples Vote campaigners to decide the questions on the ballot paper. If it happens it will be up to parliament.

    Wasn’t that the reason the Leave campaign gave for not having a plan in the event of them winning?

  • It isn’t up to the Peoples Vote campaigners to decide the questions on the ballot paper. If it happens it will be up to parliament

    So they would be happy with a referendum where the only two options were ‘accept the deal’ and ‘leave with no deal’?

    Good to know.

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