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

    January 15, 2021 |

    Wow, Graham, I was taken by surprise (but then again that’s not too hard). Having all you fine folks (my children by other fathers and mothers) would have been great. I’m hopeful that sometime in the not too distant future, we can reprise that trip. Perhaps we’ll just set aside a time for someone else’s landmark day, and we can surprise them. Love to you two. Harold

  • Graham and Nazanin

    January 15, 2021 |

    How could we miss this historic event my friend!!!
    Nazy and I were booked for that cruise Harold, we were looking so forward to it.
    We will be together soon! We both wish that continued unconditional love you receive from everyone to continue as you are that special someone that makes a difference in this world.
    Happy birthday sir, cheers!

  • Harold McNeill

    January 7, 2021 |

    Glad you found the site and that Dorthy enjoyed. I’ve added a lot of school photos in other locations linked to the High School Years stories. Cheers, Harold

  • Shelley Hamaliuk

    January 2, 2021 |

    Hi there, I am Dorothy Marshall’s (nee Hartman) daughter. Mom was quite excited when she discovered this site while surfing the net yesterday, so excited that she told me to have a look! She quite enjoyed taking a trip down memory and seeing old pictures of herself.Keep up the great work!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Rick,
    Great to hear from you and trust all is going well. Our family members are all doing well but it must be pretty tough for a lot of people. I had once heard you were going to do some writing but never heard anything further. I would be most interested, but do you think the OB News have archives back to that time. Any link or information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Did you keep copies? Regards, Harold

  • Rick Gonder

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Harold
    About 22 years ago I spent several weeks going through the OBPD archives. I wrote several stories that were published in the OB News. Feel free to use if they are of value to what you are doing.
    Keep this up, I’m enjoying it and it brings back memories.

  • Harold McNeill

    April 12, 2020 |

    Hi Susan,

    Glad you had a chance to read. I decided to update these stories by proofreading as there were several grammatical errors in many. Hopefully, many of those glaring errors have been removed.

    Many of the stories carry a considerable amount of social comment regarding the way the criminal justice system is selectively applied. Next up involves a young woman from near Cold Lake, Alberta, who was abducted by an older male from Edmonton. Her story is the story of hundreds of young men and woman who have found themselves alone and without help when being prayed upon unscrupulous predators.

    Cheers, Harold

  • Susan

    April 8, 2020 |

    Great read, Harold!…and really not surprising, sad as that may sound.
    Keep the stories coming, it is fascinating to hear them.
    Love from us out here in the “sticks”, and stay safe from this unknown predator called Covid.

  • Harold McNeill

    February 17, 2020 |

    Update:  Times Colonist, February 16, 2020, articles by Louise Dickson, She got her gun back, then she killed herself,” and,  Mounties decision to return gun to PTSD victim haunts her brother. 

    Summary: I don’t know how many read the above articles, but they contained the tragic details about young woman, Krista Carle’, who took her own life after suffering for years with PTSD. While tragedies such as this play out across Canada every week, the reason this story resonates so profoundly is that the final, tragic, conclusion took place here in Victoria. Continued in the article.

  • McNeill Life Stories Index to Police Notebook - McNeill Life Stories

    February 16, 2020 |

    […] Part I, Police solidarity and the push for amalgamation. Part II, Comparing police cultures and implementing change Part III, The past as a guide to the future Part IV The integration of police services […]