When Brexit loses its majority

Trevor Fisher on the crossover point

Early in January, Britain will switch from a pro-Brexit to an anti-Brexit country. To be more precise: if not a single voter in the referendum two and half years ago changes their mind, enough mainly Leave voters will have died, and enough mainly Remain voters will have reached voting age, to wipe out the Leave majority achieved in June 2016.

This is the clear conclusion from the YouGov survey for the People’s Vote Campaign. They show that demographic factors alone are causing the Leave majority to shrink by around 1,350 per day, or almost half a million a year. Crossover Day, when Remain moves into the lead, will be January 19th. By March 29th, the day the UK is due to leave the EU, the Remain majority will be almost 100,000, again assuming that nobody who voted in June 2016 has changed their mind.

Suggestions that age has replaced class as the major determinant of voting behaviour were reinforced at the 2016 EU referendum and 2017 General Election. Pollster Peter Kellner has proposed the Crossover thesis: that as older voters die and the young replace them the government cannot continue to conclude that they have a majority – and therefore a mandate – for the process of Brexit without a further referendum. The thesis rests on the perceived dominance of the elderly in registering and voting.

There is some data on this, but analysis – notably the Hope Not Hate report Fear Hope and Loss (September 2018) – while noting the impact of age on the attitudes analysed, rarely places age at the heart of the patterns being described. As always with social behaviour there is no unqualified direction of travel. The attitude survey reported in the Guardian on 8th December 2018 carried out by Populus for the RSA suggests that age divisions are real, but not on a Labour-Tory basis. There are major contradictions between the generations, undermining consistent political outcomes. Age is merely one factor, though increasingly I would argue the most important – and also the most time-limited.

The most pressing immediate issue – even more so than the behaviour of the elderly in recent General Elections – is the Crossover day thesis. The foundations of referendum democracy have never been clearly set out in the UK with its unwritten constitution, and the system requires a separate act for each vote, and how the existing conventions on mandates and their longevity apply is now an urgent issue. Mandate theory is an obscure aspect of constitutionalism, but clearly all mandates are subject to time decay and the 1975 mandate was gone by 2015. Has the 2016 mandate already disappeared?

For further details on Democracy, Referendums and Brexit – the Elephants in the Room – see brexitskeptic.co.uk

Trevor Fisher

Trevor Fisher edits the Brexit Skeptic blog.