Explaining The Democratic Brexit Chaos

The last 2 ½ years, since the UK decided to leave the EU, have been quite a political journey. Not a good one, but an interesting one. Much can be learned about politics observing this spectacle. As a libertarian, I know that politics is useless when it comes to solving problems. I also understand that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to reduce the size of the state.

States are like gigantic machines that keep on moving into one direction, no matter what lies in their path. Most of the time, the only thing that can keep them from growing is when they reach the point where their sizes suffocates the ability of society to function. Not that there is an inherent moral limit to stop growing at that point. But if society cannot function, it also cannot produce enough resources to fuel the machine. And so, like any machine running out of fuel, it has no choice but to slow down.

From a libertarian point of view, Brexit is an opportunity to shrink the size of one state, the EU, before it starts to suffocate society. But even shrinking the size of a state like the EU, which has no army, no police and no taxing power, turns out to be very very difficult indeed. Even just leaving seems difficult.

One reason for that is that not everyone who wants to leave the EU is motivated by liberalism. It has long been clear that there are two very different groups of Brexiteers. One group wants to get rid of the control of Brussels and replace it with nothing. They want open borders for goods and people. The other wants to gain back control from Brussels and give that control to Westminster. And we need to be honest about this, the latter group is far bigger than the former.

What we have seen in the last two years is a demonstration that democracy is not in itself freedom. The process of politics remains to be a civil war between different groups of interest. The only accomplishment of democracy, and why it might be worth having, is that this war stays largely cold rather than hot. The loosing party is encouraged to accept their defeat and continue fighting peacefully in the next election.

Many people do not perceive the democratic process to be a war. I bet that has changed since the referendum. This has caught many by surprise. As far as I can tell, there are two reason why the condition of a cold war has become more apparent. The most obvious one is that the change proposed is larger than usual. It is so large that the loosing site will not be able to simply reverse the decision in the next election. But the prospect of another battle in the imminent future is a major motivation to convince the losers to keep the war cold and civilized.

The other reason which makes this war messy is that it is complicated. The two war parties, remain and leave, are roughly the same size. In addition to that, the two camps are split on major issues themselves. As far as I can tell, there are at least five different interest groups in this battle.

Firstly there is the camp of liberal Brexiteers. Their main interest is to just get out of the EU. Their motivation is big picture politics. The EU needs to be stopped before it really starts to suffocate everyone. Since this is all about the long term future, this group is not too concerned with the short term disruptions the exit might cause. In the long run, leaving will be better for everyone. I am personally, very much in this group.

Secondly, there is the Brexit camp that likes protectionism. They want a strong state, as long as they see themselves in control of it. A lot of them have the strongest opposition to the most liberal aspect of the EU, like free movement. But they are mostly interested in specific issues, and not so much in the big picture. A lot of them are perfectly willing to make compromises with the EU, as long as their issue of interest is fixed.

Then there is the group of EU enthusiasts. Ironically, this third group is probably the biggest one. There are a few libertarians in this group, who mainly like the EU for its enforcement of free movement and opposition to nationalism. The waste majority of people, however, like the EU precisely because it is a giant state. They love the state.

They understand full well that we live in a world of global markets. Shutting oneself off from these markets will have bad consequences. But allowing these markets without global governments will weaken the state very much. Producers and taxpayers can move flexibly. They will play those little nation states against each other like a fiddle. Consequently, the ability to do politics will be weakened significantly. Forget about high taxes and welfare expenditure. Their argument for the EU is essentially mine against it.

Ironically Theresa May, and most of the Tory party, is in this third group. May in particular really loves a powerful government, the bigger the better. She clearly believes that less state control equals more chaos, and negotiates with the EU in that spirit.

The fourth group is a group of remainers around the labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Just like the third group, this group loves the state. But unlike them, Corbyn does not understand the huge benefits of global markets. He things he can beat globalism by organizing the national economy from the top.

In other words, this group is really very much like group two. However, for political reasons, it pretends to be in group three. Corbyn very much wants to get out of the EU. But since he is in the opposition, he cannot say that openly. His interest, therefore, is to not disrupt the Brexit process to the degree that Brexit won’t happen. At the same time, he has an interest in making the government look as incompetent as possible, in order to provoke another general election.

Lastly, there is a very bizarre fifth group. It is small but significant. It is an interest group in Northern Ireland. They are hardcore UK nationalists, but ironically, that does not make them Brexiteers but strong supporters of remain. I am sure I will not have to explain the details of this, as my readers will know. Despite its size, this is really the most disruptive group. There truly is no logical way, how the UK can genuinely leave the EU without a border in northern Ireland. The only possible solution is an officially existing border which is practically not enforced, and therefore stay invisible.

So, to sum up, we have a battle in which the loser cannot hope for a second chance in the near future; we have five different major interest groups with very different agendas, neither of which has a majority; and on top of that we have an EU enthusiast in charge of Brexit and a Brexiteer in charge of opposing the process. What could possible go wrong?

Looking at the situation, the most reasanable outcome is a giant compromise. Every group will have to give a little and take a little. If we assume a fair compromise, we can expect the reasult to be 20% liked and 80% hated by each group. In reality, it won’t be a completely fair compromise. But by and large, theoretically, the most likely outcome of this is a compromise that almost no one likes. And it looks very much like that is exactly what we are going to get. So the political model described above seems to represent reality well.

That is not to say that Theresa May did a good job. There certainly could have been a better deal with a more competent negotiator. But then, the fact that we have such a bad negotiator also is an outcome of the political process. That means it is not entirely accidental either. In a democracy, a leader needs to be elected. And in this process, all the different interests that I described above come into play. So instead of expecting the leadership to be won by some idealistic Brexiteer, we should expect someone to win who resembles a ruthless pragmatic compromise that no one likes. Which is what Theresa May pretty much is.

Still, the analysis above is not entirely accurate. With the current deal on the table, the liberal Brexiteers don’t really get 20%, they get pretty much nothing. The deal essentially agrees on the worst protectionism of both worlds. Free movement, the best and most liberal thing about the EU, will be ended and all the other regulations will stay.

Why did the liberal voice turn out to be excluded from current proposals? One possibility is that they really got unlucky. That is possible, but not likely.

Another possibility is that the system is rigged against liberalism. The problem with achieving liberal politics is, that it fundamentally opposes all other interest groups together. Liberalism is idealistic and therefore not well suited for compromises. Every compromise feels like a total defeat. In this particular battle, the liberal Brexiteers have portrayed everything but an essentially no deal departure as a betrayal of Brexit. But in a battle where you can realistically hope for 20%, asking for all or nothing will most likely get you nothing. Realistically, we would need to get lucky to get no deal.

There is, however, another possibility. Maybe I am simply fooling myself to believe that the liberal Brexiteers are a significantly large group in all of this. Maybe there are really only four and not five groups, all of which are like protectionism in some form.

The political process within states can neither solve problems, nor will it likely lead to a serious reformation of the status quo. Unless the state has reach the point where it starts to suffocate society, and the status quo itself is in a crises, Leviathan usually continues to grow. The best outcome, libertarian Brexiteers like myself can hope for is that by some giant accident, the different groups hate each other so much that they don’t end up agreeing on anything, and we get no deal by default.

Hope springs eternal. It is not really that realistic, because the fact that a no deal needs to be prevented is the one thing that all of the other parties can agree on. That means the more likely outcome from such a chaos is that there won’t be much of an exit from the EU at all. The only question with such an outcome will be, whether it will keep the civil war cold. In this country, however, it probably will.

Brexit is often described as one of the biggest democratic events in the history of the UK. In an ideal democracy, we would get the rule of the average opinion. What else could the will of the people be than that?

The problem wth averages is that they can be completely detached from reality. The average woman in England has 1.8 children. I, however, have never met one single woman that actually has 1.8 children, how could she? The statistical average for every woman does not actually describe a single real world woman.

If democracy is supposed to represent the average opinion of the people, in other words, the will of the people, than it is possible that the policy resulting from this, while it describes the will of all people, does not describe the will of any single real human being part of that same people. I don’t think that a lot of democracy advocates understand this simple truth. They clearly assume that the will of the people needs to satisfy most people.

The latter, however, is only the case if society is largely in agreement on issues. The more opinions there are, the more likely democracy will deliver a result that no one likes. Alternatively, the system will simply end up paralyzed. And as I have described above, when it comes to Brexit, opinions differ hugely. So democracy probably really did win, and was not betrayed, when it comes to Brexit. It is just foolish expect democracy to produce good outcomes. In reality, democracy really is that messy. It is the wrong system.

The principle of the state is that one size always has to fit all. For this to work, at least most people need to roughly have the same size. The more sizes differ, the more likely it is that the average size, that is supposed to fit all, fits no one. That is why, state advocates always end up to be some kind of egalitarians. Only then, at least the illusion can be kept up that the whole thing actually works.

But in reality, people are not equal. They differ in many ways, and they certainly often do not agree with each other. The only peaceful and harmonious solution in that kind of reality is liberty. Instead of asking how can we find a size that fits all, we need to instead ask, how can we minimize the rules that need to be enforced on everyone. That would be the only universal size we need to find. Of course there need to be rules to make society function. But these rules should be at the absolute minimum possible. In other words, we should have a maximum of interpersonal liberty. That way, everyone can wear their own size.

It is, however, naive to expect liberty as an outcome from the political process within the state. By promising that the war will be cold and civilized, the state has legitimizes the process of everyone fighting against each other. And since it is very much a war, one cannot expect this process to stay harmonious and peaceful forever. Eventually, the conflicts of interest will become so large that people will definitely hate and eventually most likly even fight each other. For that not to happen, we should really hate the game and not the players. And to be clear, the game is not Brexit. Brexit is just a battle within the game. The actual game is the monopoly that is the state.

  14 comments for “Explaining The Democratic Brexit Chaos

  1. Ken Ferguson
    Jan 14, 2019 at 11:25 am

    The Brexit referendum was the first time I can remember when politicians tried to scare the electorate to take a particular course of action and did not succeed. It was a great moment and subsequent events have proved we were right not to be afraid.

    Now the same politicians think they can avoid implementing the decision and that the electorate will be too stupid to notice. Well I’ve ordered my yellow vest but it is not me they should be worried about. Because the English working class are slow to anger but, when they do get mobilised they are very powerful.

    And they are beginning to sound very angry indeed.

    Incidentally (and at the risk of Simon complaining I am only trying to generate back links to my website!!) if anyone is in any doubt about the vile, protectionist nature of the EU they should come see it from my perspective.

    https://eriderbikes.com/eu-pirates/

  2. Julie near Chicago
    Jan 14, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Ken, though I can only watch from the sidelines and cheer or hiss as my favorite team moves ahead or falls behind, I must say that I hope you’re right.

    .

    Simon, that strikes me as a very good analysis. Thanks, and I hope things go better than expected.

  3. Paul Marks
    Jan 15, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    Nico – I suspect that you are not a native of these islands. No offense but you have rather serious gaps in your knowledge.

    For example the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland (whose MPs will be voting today) would not like the word “nationalists” – and are certainly not in favour of Remain (let alone “hard core” Remain).

    There is a lot of TRUTH in what you write in this post – but also a lot of important gaps in your knowledge (which English people will be too polite to be point out – I was born on this island and have normally lived here, but I am NOT ethnically English, so I do not have a problem with pointing out errors).

    What unites “Leavers” is a rejection of the laws and taxes of the European Union – what laws and taxes we should live under WITHOUT the E.U. does indeed divide us – you are quite correct about that.

    • Nico Metten
      Jan 15, 2019 at 6:30 pm

      > For example the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland (whose MPs will be voting today) would not like the word “nationalists” – and are certainly not in favour of Remain (let alone “hard core” Remain).

      Maybe I am wrong about this, but I am not under the impression that the DUP wants a hard border in Northern Ireland. They are certainly nationalists, whether they like that word or not.

      >What unites “Leavers” is a rejection of the laws and taxes of the European Union – what laws and taxes we should live under WITHOUT the E.U. does indeed divide us – you are quite correct about that.

      Yes, sure that is what leaving the EU means. But their philosophical reasons for favouring that can be divided into protectionist and liberal, with the protectionists being in the majority.

      Criticism abut knowledge gaps is of course very welcome!

      • Paul Marks
        Jan 17, 2019 at 12:14 am

        There has never been a “hard border” in Ireland (have you ever been to Ulster?) . No one has ever even suggested a “hard border” – which would be physically impossible (unless one cut a thousands of country lanes), even during “The Troubles” people could cross the border in many thousands of places. But then which “The Troubles”? Ireland has always been blood soaked place (it was long before 1170), although that does not mean that people do not like each other.

        Indeed the killings of Ireland are part of its charm – one can be out walking on country lanes (the way one can not here in England because there are too many people and cars) and pass a sign saying “here was the great town of…… massacred to the last man in the year …….” – very sad of course, but Ireland (north and south) would not be Ireland without this. And one must remember that everyone is really related – including Protestants and Catholics (and there have always been Protestant Nationalists and Catholic Unionists – that does confuse Americans), normally speaking the commander of one army will be related to the commander of the opposing army.

        “I killed him – he was a lovely man” is not something that an English person would normally say.

        Americans should recognise that from Senator Benton talking about President Jackson – “President Jackson, of course I remember him – I shot him once, a fine man!” – very Scots-Irish (Ulster Scots). But down South it was a PARTLY the same – at least it used to be (watch the film “The Guard” some time, that is very Southern Irish).

        Although there can be bitterness as well – the Hatfields and McCoys were from this culture (Northern Irish Scots Irish culture – which was also the culture of parts of the big island of Britain) – especially Old Man McCoy, who became very bitter (I think with good reason).

        Your claim was (I think) that the DUP are Remainers – actually Sammy Wilson and the others in the DUP voted to Leave the E.U., I should know (I campaigned with them). The Remainers in Ulster were the Nationalists (Irish Nationalists) – plus quite a lot of Unionists who got scared (not DUP people at all – more Middle Class government “public sector” employees).

        It you are not confused yet – I can go on (for a long time), there are endless layers of this stuff.

        Still turning to the big island…..

        “Protectionists being in the majority” – err no, hardly anyone on the Leave side is suggesting trade tariffs. Are you thinking of immigration? That is not the same thing as trade – indeed the old saying used to be “if goods can not cross borders, armies will” – free trade was the ALTERNATIVE to “free migration”.

        I am glad that that criticism about your knowledge gaps is welcome Nico – because I could go on (a lot longer). I have told you I am not ethnically English I(I am part Jewish and part Irish and 100% loyal to the British Crown – although I do have some English in me from my maternal grandmother Ethel Draper) – I do not have a problem with pointing out errors. Indeed I can be very blunt indeed – no offence meant.

        My own grandfather’s people came from the far South (Waterford) – they were Catholic Unionists (my grandfather served in both World Wars and , but I know the North.

        Remember the badge of Ulster – the Red Hand do you know what it is from Nico?

        The O’Neil (the head of the O’Neals) was in a boat race to claim new land – the first person to put his hand upon it would own it, he was losing the race so he cut his own hand off and flung it on the shore – hence the “Red Hand”, that is VERY Ulster.

        “Are the O’Neils Catholic or Protestant” – they are both Nico, they have been both for centuries.

        • Nico Metten
          Jan 17, 2019 at 10:14 am

          > There has never been a “hard border” in Ireland (have you ever been to Ulster?)

          Northern Ireland was the very first place I went to in the UK, before I came to Britain. But there was a hard border, meaning a border that was visible with checks. No border is impenetrable, and most borders can be crossed easily if wanted. At least that used to be the case until not too long ago.

          >Your claim was (I think) that the DUP are Remainers

          It is interesting that you think I am talking explicitly about the DUP. I must have written something that suggests that. I do not mention the DUP. I am talking about interest groups in the political battle around Brexit. And one issue is that there are people who would like for NI to be an equal part of the UK, and simultaneously do not want a visible border to Ireland. The only position that can officially achieve that is to remain in the EU. And that is how Northern Ireland voted.

          But point taken, I might be misjudging the degree to which some of these UK nationalists are for Brexit.

          > “Protectionists being in the majority” – err no, hardly anyone on the Leave side is suggesting trade tariffs.

          That is not true. It is true that this country has a long tradition of free trade, and that there are noticeable voices arguing for it. But a lot of people would vote for tariffs to protect the industry they are in. And that is what protectionism is all about, to protect the local industry from competition. I have not heart the government make a case for unilateral free trade in any major way.

          And yes of course, immigration controls are a big part of protectionism. Conflating immigrants with armies is either very confused or outright in bad faith

    • Nico Metten
      Jan 15, 2019 at 7:56 pm

      I am not sure if that is clear, but I am not just talking about the DUP, but generally about Northern Ireland. NI voted clearly to remain in the EU. At the same time the majority of people there seem to want to very much stay within the UK. They even where willing to fight a war over this. So clearly they are nationalists and remainers.

  4. Julie near Chicago
    Jan 16, 2019 at 10:36 pm

    Nico, dust bunnies gone, holes in brain now entirely empty. :>(

    For some reason I thought Simon had written the posting. Sorry! :>(((

  5. Jan 31, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    I don’t agree with the implication/assumption that there are particular well-defined groups of voters like this. Happy to be convinced otherwise by evidence.

    I think there’s pretty clear evidence that people vote the way they do for *combinations* of reasons. It’s perfectly possible that these reasons might be logically mutually inconsistent. Moreover, from my experience trying to get people to vote a particular way, I’d caution against assuming that many vote because of arguments rather than feelings; a lot of it is more “which way do other people like me vote?”.

    In particular, I don’t think “Liberal Leave” is a thing, or if it is, it’s incredibly badly named. There’s a very vocal tiny group of individuals who oppose democratic control over microeconomic regulation who nevertheless also oppose EU membership, e.g., on global free trade grounds. They are disproportionately overrepresented in the media compared to their actual voting strength.

    • Nico Metten
      Feb 1, 2019 at 2:08 pm

      It is a rough and ready model. Of course, if one wanted a completly accurate model, one would need to have as many groups as there are voters. No two people are exactly the same. But such a model would not be very useful. Models don’t have to completly accurate. In fact, one of the major functions of models is, to break down the complexity of the real world into more simple units. That way reality become more understandable. Models just have to be accurate enough for what they are trying to explain.

      The groups, in my analysis, descripe the major interests in the fight arroung what Brexit we are going to get. And even though it is a very simplistic model, it already explains, why we are not seeing better results. Making the model more accurate would only make it even more complex. And it is precisely the complexity of the situation that prevents better results.

      • Martin
        Feb 4, 2019 at 5:53 pm

        Is there any empirical evidence whatsoever for the existence of the groups you’re positing?

        • Feb 4, 2019 at 6:55 pm

          Of course. The arguments being made in the battle around Brexit fall in these categories, and we can name the people who make them. We would not hear them, if there wasn’t enough people thinking like that. The better question is, is there evidence that this model is fundamentally wrong.

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