52% – 48%. In the US Senate, that would fall short of a decisive vote by 14%, and Brexit proceedings would have never gone past the referendum. In British politics, however, a difference of a mere 4% has led to a painful two years of Brexit negotiations that have seemingly gone next to nowhere.
But Brexit was the will of the people, was it not? Regardless of the closeness of the final vote, the people have had their say and have taken the decision to leave the European Union.
That is certainly what the referendum suggests, but it is not exactly that simple.
The electorate at the time of the referendum was 46.5 million – that is, 46.5 million people who lucked themselves into having a say on arguably the biggest vote in British history simply by holding the correct passport (British & Northern Irish) and spending the correct amount of time orbiting around the sun (18 years or more) by the assigned date (23rd June 2016). Of that 46.5 million, 72.2% – roughly 36.6 million – actually voted. Combine that number with the 51.9% Leave vote that won the day, and that reveals that just 17.4 million – 37.5% of the electorate – actually voted for Brexit.
In other words, just over 1 in 3 of the electorate decided the future of the country for the foreseeable future, and 2 in 3 of the electorate – not to mention the 19.1 million Brits too young to vote – have to live with a future that they did not vote for.
But so what? Would the result have been so different if everyone in the electorate had actually voted? Instead of speculating, let’s do a bit of maths regarding the 9.9 million undecided would-be voters. According to a poll from an article on ukandeu.com, a website dedicated to independent research into the UK’s position in a changing Europe, 39.1% of those that did not turn out to vote would have voted to remain, 28.7% would have voted leave, and 32.2% remained unsure. For that final 32.2%, I shall let the source explain for me – “to determine how these people would have voted, we use a question in the pre-referendum survey (conducted on June 19th and 20th—just a few days before the event) which asked them how they were going to vote. Of those who ‘didn’t know’, 53.1 per cent reported after the referendum survey that they opted for Remain.” Using that 53.1% figure on the final 32.2%, we can come to a final – if wildly estimated – figure on the results of the EU referendum if the whole electorate had turned out.
Leave 49.65% – 50.35% Remain. A result somehow narrower than the reality, but at the very least a 0.7% difference from a 100% turnout is somewhat more indicative of the actual will of the people. To some this would be more than enough evidence that the UK’s Brexit-bound course is not the true will of the people, and ultimately not the course that the UK should be taking.
Ultimately, however, the mob ruled for Brexit. To woe over the ‘what ifs’ of a decision made two (very) long years ago is to ignore the fact that it is far too late to sway this ship’s momentous – if infinitely divisive and controversial – course. It is up for the future generations to make do with the mess that we have been left with and come out on the other side with our pride, identity, and multicultural society somehow still intact. Those generations may not have had a say, and that is an entirely different argument, but ultimately it is up to them – and by extension us – to take the wheel of this dubiously ‘Great’ vessel, take it through the storm of Brexit, and continue to steer it with much-needed confidence and clarity in a world getting scarier and more divided by the day.
Written by Chris Evans