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No exit for Brexit? Take a closer look

On March 27, UK MPs voted on eight options on Brexit. From May’s point of view, they rejected them all. But, take a closer look and it’s possible to find a solution.

Rida Laraki Chloé Ridel
30 March 2019
UK MP's brief People's Vote campaigners on Brexit Indicative Vote options, March 27, 2019.
UK MP's brief People's Vote campaigners on Brexit Indicative Vote options, March 27, 2019.
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Dinendra Haria/PA> All rights reserved.

"No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No."

In a game of "yes or no", MPs turned down all options put to them and a No-deal Brexit became more likely than ever, with consequences that are expected to be catastrophic.

However, the results of the vote lend themselves to further analysis. Applying Majority Judgment[1], a new method of voting, it’s possible to determine which option was least rejected and a precise order of what the MPs preferred.

"Majority Judgment" (MJ) asks each voter to give her opinion on all candidates – or options – based on a scale of grades such as Excellent, Good, Acceptable, Poor, Terrible. The winner is the one that has the best evaluation by a majority of the electorate or, put another way, the one who obtains the best majority grade.

In the House of Commons, MPs were invited to "yes", "no" or "abstain" (neither yes nor no) on each of the options. These three possibilities can, in effect, be considered three "grades" in a scale that can be used to vote and then rank with majority judgment.

With MJ, what seemed impossible is no longer: all options can be ranked and, consequently, there is one option that is considered better (or less worse) than all others by a majority in the British Parliament!

Nine options

To the 8 options put to the vote on Wednesday evening, we add a 9th: "The exit agreement supported by the European Union and the government of Theresa May[1]". Applying MJ produces the following ranking.

Majority judgment applied to indicative vote results on March 27, 2019.
Majority judgment applied to indicative vote results on March 27, 2019.None

According to MJ, the option that is best evaluated by a majority of MPs is the customs union or a "permanent and complete United Kingdom customs agreement with the European Union".

Significantly, "no deal" and " May’s deal", the options that the European Union and the British government have presented to MPs as the only possible alternatives, are in fact among the worst ranked and the most rejected! MPs would prefer to cancel Brexit and revoke article 50, rather than engage in either of these.

This tragic example can be transposed to many other situations. There will be more and more cases where we will have to decide together, but where decisions are neither easy nor obvious. Enabling voters to express their views more precisely with majority judgment is crucial to elections. It is also, critically, an accurate representation of what the opinion of the majority is.

Referenda around the world could change and become a tool for peace and consensus building, if based on MJ, because majority judgment allows voters to evaluate the different candidates or options rather than just say " Yes or No". Indeed, the debates and discussions in the lead up to referenda would also be profoundly transformed and less subject to manipulation and excessive polarization.

Brexit is a classic case where the binary logic of Yes / No voting fails. Since none of the exit options is favoured by the MPs, there seems to be no way out and Brexit is therefore likely to end in a major failure of democracy.

  1. We used the vote of the House of Commons, the 23 of March 2019.

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