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UCL SSEES Opinion Blog



After the Referendum

By Blog Admin, on 4 July 2016

Following on from last week’s discussion , more of our experts put forth their views on the outcome of the EU Referendum. 52% of voters opted to leave the EU, a result which has caused disruption to the financial markets and a 31-year low for the pound. Both main parties are facing a leadership challenge. David Cameron announced his resignation on the day of the referendum result and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was met with mass resignations from the Shadow Cabinet.

The debate – both at SSEES and nationally – continues.


Hala Haddad – SSEES BA, MA, PhD 2008)

It is very clear from all the messages that we are all devastated by the result of the referendum and are willing to sign petitions, demonstrate, demand a second referendum etc just to reverse the damage that has been done and avoid the catastrophic future we could face. In my humble opinion and against all my hopes, I don’t think this will amount to anything. Democracy, at times, may not be the best solution to an issue that has so many far reaching consequences, especially when, as we witnessed later, many ‘leave’ voters didn’t properly grasp what they were voting for. The day after the referendum the most asked question on google was ‘what is the EU’? What we must do now is observe and respect the democratic outcome and live up to the decision we have made as a nation. The remaining EU members will not be forgiving, and trying to turn back the tide will not work. What we must make sure of is that we do not get bullied into implementing article 50 before we are ready. I can go on and on about the above, but I’ll stop.

David Cameron (By DFID, via Wikimedia Commons)

One last thing, I think David Cameron is entirely to blame for this. Why are we even voting on a referendum that is so damaging when we can’t control the outcome??? Corbyn ( and I am sorry Pete) cannot be let off lightly either. I don’t think he did enough- far too passive. He was behind the scenes too much. I certainly would have liked to hear more from him.


Imogen Wade, PhD researcher at UCL SSEES

Thank you very much for so much food for thought. Thanks to Pete for starting the discussion. I have been silent so far, but now just want to add something that may help us understand why people voted the way they did in the referendum on 23 June. Last night, I watched a Horizon programme on BBC4 called ‘how you really make decisions?‘ (first aired on 24 Feb 2014)

We make between 2,000 – 10,000 decisions every day, the majority of which are without thinking: the intuitive, often irrational decisions, the result of the ‘system I’ part of our brain. The ‘system II’ part of our brain is the slow, rational, and often lazy one. What happens is that system I and system II are often in conflict, with system I being engaged so that system II does not have to be. This leads to systematic mistakes, or cognitive biases.

Researchers in psychology and behavioural economies have found 150 of these cognitive biases to date, including the halo effect (where we associate good traits with a person or organisation we like and feel uncomfortable if we know they/it has some bad traits too, and vice versa); present bias focus (where we think more of ‘now’ than the future e.g. why we text while driving or smoke); loss aversion bias (when we think we’re winning, we don’t take risks but when faced with loss, we are reckless – think of the bankers leading up to the 2008 economic crisis), etc.

So, voters may not have voted rationally in the referendum. Neither do politicians behave rationally! Hence another reason to try to stop Article 50 from being invoked.


Bojan Aleksov, Senior Lecturer in Modern Southeast European History at UCL SSEES

No matter how much I liked reading your comments and opinions I think we are crying over spilt milk. If you saw BBC News last night, you could see the complete change of tone that could not happen without official order/approval. So Europe is out. It made it into 20th minute of the news but in a semi-comic/semi curious way after all internalist and nationalist debates were exhausted. Angela and co were treated like Putin and co. Even the positive reports about Europe and its citizens which made into London news were paternalistic and the message was clear – Europeans are welcome as long as they are making a contribution. But it is clear who decides on who is welcome and what constitutes a contribution.

Theresa May (By Policy Exchange via Flickr)

I think this is a reality that we will be facing increasingly and that we have to concentrate our thoughts and energies into maintaining our links to Europe, trying to save our students from Europe and not falling prey to insular and chauvinist atmosphere.



Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies at UCL SSEES

A 60-40 Referendum – But ‘Remain’ Has to Get the 60%
Whether or not there is an early general election depends on the arcane politics of the Conservative Party. Whether or not a new Labour leader emerges capable of articulating a properly positive case for Remain depends on the extra-parliamentary left. But willing forces could start now to campaign for a second vote on a 60-40 basis.
This would not be the retrospective tinkering with the rules that some have advocated. It would only apply for a second vote. And crucially only Remain would have to get 60%. Anything less, and the original verdict would stand – Exit would still prevail. The point would not be simply to overturn the Exit vote. There would only be change if enough Exit voters had changed their minds.
There are some signs that they may have done so already. Not the ill-informed mood of ‘Regrexit’ or buyers’ remorse. But because Exit leaders ditched their false prospectus so quickly, and because of Boris Johnson’s extraordinarily swift departure from the murder scene. And because Michael Gove seemed to be perfectly happy working with Johnson when it was a matter of sabotaging the country’s foreign policy future, but not when it came to the more important question of which of them should be Prime Minister.
The ‘project fear’ campaign during the referendum was too hyperbolic, and many voters just tuned out. But the accumulation of real-world economic and political costs is different. And things will likely get worse. Some Exit voters might welcome the chance for second thoughts. Others may not. But that could only be tested in a way that respected the original verdict.
How confident are Remain supporters that they could get 60% in a second vote? 55-45 might be an easier target, but would be less of a moral statement. But if Remain supporters think the case is as strong as they have been claiming, then why not?


Katja Richters, SSEES PhD 2010

I agree with Pete that the activation of article 50 should be delayed as long as possible (or indefinitely) with the means that he mentions. I’ve signed the petition for a second referendum although I don’t really want one. If people didn’t know what they were voting for last week they will not know what they are voting for next month or next year. I used to be a fan of direct democracy, but it seems to me now that EU membership is too complicated an issue to be put to a popular vote. Also, David Cameron made a dog’s dinner of the referendum by not stipulating a minimum turnout and a decisive margin for either side to claim victory

I also strongly agree with Licia that the idea that immigration is a problem needs to be challenged. Although immigration has been a major issue during the referendum discourse I really do not see the result as a mandate to restrict immigration or indeed to leave the EU. Instead, I see it as a desperate cry for better public services and I sympathise with it. This is a huge opportunity for the Labour party and I do hope that it will seize on it.

Regarding Corbyn: I voted for him last year and I went to Parliament Sq on Monday to support him. I agree with his anti-austerity stance and I also believe that now is really not the time for the navel gazing that a leadership challenge always brings with it. Unfortunately, I’ve had to change my mind because it has become clear that Corbyn is the only high-profile politician who is currently calling for the immediate activation of article 50. He has been a fervent critic of the EU for most of his political life and he only agreed to campaign for remain because this was the party line. I do not envisage the Labour Party to stand on a pro-EU platform as long as he is leader. So, when the time comes for members to vote for a new leader of the Labour party I will not be voting for him.

Regarding the outpouring of nationalism: Pete’s thoughts were absolutely prophetic. I have just returned from the Labour Party General Committee in Tottenham where our MP, David Lammy, informed us that he had multiple death threats against himself and his family and that the word ‘nigger’ had been used on numerous occasions. I have rarely seen a man as angry and as depressed as he was tonight. David Lammy was the first MP to suggest that the referendum be considered advisory and he’s trying to build a cross-party coalition to stop the activation of article 50. I have written to him expressing my support for his actions and my condolences about the abuse that he has been subjected to. Let’s hope this helps.


Peter Zusi, Lecturer in Czech with Slovak Literature at UCL SSEES

I am surprised how little attention is being given in the public discussion to the point Katja raises about the fact that such a fundamental decision on the future of the country (and of Europe, obviously) was subject to a simple-majority referendum. Given registration and turn-out factors, this means that 17 million people now count as a ‘majority’ in a country of 64 million inhabitants. In other circumstances major decisions need to pass a 2/3 or even higher majority. So the seeds of fundamental social disruption were planted right there.
Regarding chauvinism/intolerance, I even had my own (very minor, of course, but unsettling) brush with it the other day–perhaps just coincidence, but have never experienced anything like that in nine years of living in this country (and it involved a tie-and-suited, well-fed middle aged man who clearly belonged to the London managerial classes, not a disaffected member of the post-industrial heartlands…)
In my opinion, Corbyn needs to go at this point. The luxury of a period of purification of Labour before setting up an electable leadership structure, has unfortunately been taken away.


Pete Duncan, Senior Lecturer in Russian Politics and Society at UCL SSEES

I’m concerned by the treatment of Ruth Smeeth MP at the launch of Shami Chakrabarti’s report on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party; and by John McDonnell’s acceptance of the referendum result, claiming that ‘the people have spoken’. On the other hand, Theresa May’s statement that, if elected, she’ll postpone activation of Article 50 until the end of the year, gives us more time to influence public opinion.


Geoffrey Hosking, Emeritus Professor of Russian History at UCL SSEES

Please see the letter sent by leading Green politicians to Corbyn and others proposing an alliance of anti-Brexit parties.  It is in line with my earlier suggestion, and I support it, though I suspect that Labour will give a dusty answer.  Alas for us all!

David Lammy, Tottenham MP (By Poliocy Exchange via Wikimedia Commons)

David Lammy, Tottenham MP (By Policy Exchange via Wikimedia Commons)

Katja Richters, SSEES PhD 2010

If the Greens don’t get a decent response from Jeremy Corbyn’s office (which is likely), they should send the letter to my MP, David Lammy (Tottenham) who is trying to build a cross-party alliance against Brexit. He was the first to suggest it and was still very keen on it when I saw him last Wednesday. Alas, he’s been largely ignored in the media.


Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of UCL or SSEES.

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