Brexit: How a minority took control

Written by Harold McNeill on July 3rd, 2016. Posted in Tim Hortons Morning Posts


Boris Johnson: “Now this is a real pigs breakfast, I think I’ll let someone
else clean it up.”

Was it a Mistake?

In my opinion, if the vote was held today, 70% or more would vote to stay and the turnout would be 90% or higher. People are now engaged in the real issues in a way they weren’t in the lead up to the vote. In the lead-up much of the conversation was all about hate, immigrants, fear-mongering and the stuff that gave the Britain First FB page an audience if millions. Residents of the UK are just now facing up to the fact an exit can seriously affect their well-being as well as the very standing of their country in world affairs.  Canada would have faced the same challenges if a few votes in our country had gone one-half of one percent the other way back in the mid-1990’s.

Below is the current lead photo on the Britain First FB Page. A sign-up page is provided.
During the lead-up to the referendum the Britain First FB page was filled with hateful racist comments and general misinformation that was followed by millions including many in Canada.

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 9.55.19 AM

It is perplexing to me that given the high stakes involved in breaking up a country through a referendum, a simple majority is all that it takes. In England, the ‘exit’ side only needed to attract 36% of the voters in order to secure the win. The remaining 64% (and now probably a good portion of the 36% who voted to exit) are wondering just what in hell happened. Why these numbers?

With a voter turnout of just over 70%, and a 48-52% split, that translates to roughly 34% voting to stay and 36% voting to leave. Of the those who didn’t cast a ballot (28%), it is now known to contain a large number of young people who generally supported the ‘stay’ side. Why they didn’t vote is not certain, but it seems social media played a role. Indications suggest general comments on Twitter, Facebook, etc., indicated the ‘stay’ side would win by a wide margin. With a ‘win’ on the horizon, a lot of young people didn’t bother to cast a ballot. This whole exercise demonstrates the danger of a simple majority (50% plus 1) when combined with poor information about outcomes.  Why is it important to raise the bar when the stakes are high?

A Healthy Constitution and Bylaws

For a good part of my retired life, I sat on the Boards of Directors of non-profit organizations at the local, provincial and national level and while there was often tasked with dealing with Constitutional matters. Developing a solid, sustainable organization that cannot be easily whipsawed by special interest groups is no easy task and when countries are involved it is no different.

In drafting a Constitution it is generally accepted that a supermajority (usually 66 2/3% or higher) is needed to bring about a major change in the organizations structure (e.g. mergers, voting structures, changing the Constitution, etc.). Bylaws on the other hand usually deal  with day-to-day operations and  only require a simple majority (50% + 1) unless otherwise stipulated.

The higher vote requirement for Constitutional change is needed to insure a majority clearly understand what was being proposed and that a solid majority of those members support the change. That is why Constitutional change is often difficult to achieve.

Even with the high vote turnout in England (72%), it only took 36% to carry the day. It is almost certain that a large number who voted for leave did so without having any idea of what the future might bring. For an entire country, deciding to ‘leave’ based on the wishes of 36% of the population is ludicrous.  Britain is now facing an existential crisis of monumental proportions, as the divisions created within the country will take decades to heal.  It now seems possible the country will continue to break-up if Scotland decides remain with the EU (which it voted to do in the referendum).

Even the driving force of ‘leave’ campaign, Boris Johnson, the Lord Mayor of London, has baled as he had no plan what-so-ever to carry the country forward if the leave side won. His city largely voted to remain, so he will likely soon be vacating that position as he now admits he never expected the referendum to pass. What a pigs breakfast he helped create just a Donald Trump is now doing in the United States.

Two men, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are driven by egos the size of the Atlantic Ocean and both use a similar manner to incite people to follow them.


The Canadian Experience

Canada has faced similar situations with the Quebec referendums. In 1980 the Quebec separatist vote was 60% for remain and 40% for leave with an 85% voter turnout. In 1995 after years of acrimonious debate within Quebec and across Canada, the vote was 49.5% voting to leave and 50.5% to remain. Voter turnout was 95%. In our 150 years history, that was the closest Canada ever came to breaking up and it was caused largely because a simple majority was allowed to stand.

In Canada, amendments to the Canadian Constitution:

can be passed only if identical resolutions are adopted by the House of Commons, the Senate and two thirds or more of the provincial legislative assemblies representing at least 50 percent of the national population. This formula, which is outlined in section 38 of the Constitution Act, 1982, is officially referred to as the “general amendment procedure” and is known colloquially as the “7+50 formula”.

If in the future one of the Canadian Provinces desire too separate, I think it only reasonable to expect a supermajority be required. Canada has held together for 150 years and we are considered one of the most successful multicultural democracies in the world. This has been accomplished because when push comes to shove a supermajority in our country prefers to build bridges rather than walls.

Perhaps over the next several months the people of Great Britain will come to terms with the decision that was made by the minority. They may even take another vote just to see if the first was real. Quebec tried twice and lost both times (the second by the skin of our teeth), but it seems Quebec has come to terms with their position in Canada even though the media continues to try and stir up resentment.

In closing, you may get a kick out of the video presented in the TV series, “Yes Minister”. It speaks to the issues at hand in Britain.


Just in on July 4, 2016:  Nigel Farage resigns from the Nkip leader, and acknowledged leader of Brexit over the past two years. He laughed as he walked out the door.  What an absolute scoundrel.


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  • Harold McNeill

    August 16, 2019 |

    Many thanks for reviewing the article Elizabeth. There are so many areas of our society in which populism carries the day, although I think what is happening with the ICBC is that groups having a vested interest in private insurance would dearly love to dislodge ICBC from their preferred position. That being said, I think was a good move to have only portions of the insurance coverage in BC being held by ICBC and other portions being made available through private enterprise.

  • Elizabeth Mary McInnes, CAIB

    August 15, 2019 |

    It’s a breath of fresh air to see a resident of British Columbia look to review all the facts over believing what is reported in the news or just following along with the negative stigma of the masses. Your article truly showcases that with a little reform to ICBC’s provincial system – British Columbia could be a true leader for other provinces in Canada. Very well written article!

  • Harold McNeill

    August 13, 2019 |

    August 13, 2019. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), a private enterprise group not unlike the Fraser Institute, is again on the campaign trail. They state ICBC rates are the highest in Canada, but, thankfully, Global BC inserted a section indicating the Insurance Bureau cherry-picked the highest number in BC and the lowest numbers in AB, ON and other Eastern Provinces. If you take a few minutes to check reliable sources you will find BC rates, are the lowest in Canada.

  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.