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

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email:

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.