Of the many problems associated with Brexit, the most glaring is the lack of ability for those in charge to get a majority of people behind any one given choice forward. However, this is strange on a number of levels, given the actual makeup of the house in terms of what each MP believes. For example, there is a vast majority against a ‘no deal’ exit, but they can’t seem to execute on that, and so if no one compromises, it’ll be the option taken despite it probably being the least favourite option of 90% of the MPs.
To show a potential way forward, let’s invite Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham to try and solve our issue. Bentham believed in a Hedonic Calculus, where everything could be measured in units of good or bad. For simplicity, let’s just use positive units. Every MP has a set of options in front of them, and they can give them a maximum utility of 100, and a minimum utility of 0.
Note: I am not saying any of the following is what I believe is best, or that they outcome of the calculus is my preferred option. This is an attempt to be objective.
For our experiment, Bentham is going to create a 4 x 5 grid, comparing types of MP vs types of outcome. Our MP types are as follows (a) our no deal MPs, (b) our soft brexit MPs, (c) our remain MPs in a constituency that was strongly Leave-voting (here defined as 60%+), and (d) our remain MPs who live either in a balanced or remain area. Our five outcomes are (i) no deal, (ii) May’s deal, (iii) a customs union deal, kind of what Corbyn is saying, a little softer than May’s but not fully defined, (iv) a Norway or Norway+ deal, (v) remaining.
So let’s walk through our four sets and see what they feel.
So, obviously our no-deal MPs want no deal, so if there is a no deal, we’re going to award them 100 utility points. Since they’re so against any permanent tie to the EU, Bentham (not me, of course) decides to give them 30 points for a CU and 20 for a Norway brexit (liking Norway less for keeping FoM). Now, initially he decides to give them 0 for remaining, but after a cup of tea with Jacob Rees-Mogg, he understands that they prefer remaining to May’s deal, as they believe they’ll be trapped in a way that they aren’t even now. As such, he gives remaining 5 points, and May’s deal 0. Bentham also visits his friends at YouGov and learns that this group is roughly 65 MPs.
This group is a little trickier, as they represent a slightly wider range of options. However, Bentham’s friends at YouGov had a harder time breaking down the numbers here, so lazy Bentham decided to lump them all together. The definition he used was based on their original desires at the referendum, not what they appear to be supporting now, so by this definition, the Labour front bench pushing for Corbyn’s CU would not be here, but in the Remain set of MPs. By this method, Jeremy B finds about 105 MPs are in this box.
This group campaigned for a variety of outcomes, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, off-the-shelf. One thing that unites them is the idea that we should have some form of close tie with the EU and that a no deal brexit would be extremely harmful economically. As such, they only award 10 points to a no deal, as it gets them brexit, but in a bad way. Since they’re eurosceptics who campaigned to leave, they also dislike remaining, but give it 20 points as at least it avoids a no-deal chaotic affair. They too dislike May’s deal due to the backstop, so they average out at a 50 here: not perfect, but kinda what they wanted. They’re after something closer. As such, they give the CU idea a 75, and the Norway option 90. This is because the Norway option is better catering to services and the CU to goods, and since they are most concerned about a strong economic position after leaving, Norway is slightly preferred. Some MPs give Norway 100, others a CU 100, but the points above give us our averages for this group.
Remain MPs in leave constituencies
This is our most conflicted group. They believe that they need to stick to their guns and fight for what they believe in. But at the same time, they know that they probably have to temper that with representing their voters’ choice. After speaking to a few of these MPs, Bentham concludes that they are balancing these out, but are putting much more weight on their original beliefs than on being delegates. Clearly Burke was here before him.
As such, their options are as follows: no deal is 5 points – it’s bad, but at least they might keep their seats. They don’t see much difference between the CU deal and May’s deal – they’re not concerned about being trapped in a backstop, but they don’t like losing FoM. As such they give both of these a 40 – they can live with it. When weighing up Norway against remaining, they decide to give Norway a 90 and remain a 95. Remaining would get 100, but they might lose their seats, so loses 5 points. Norway isn’t quite what they want, but they can say they respected the vote, and in reality, they’ve still got FoM, and they can live with not being a part of the Common Agricultural Policy as a least-bad outcome of losing the brexit vote. Bentham checks notes, and finds there are about 112 of these MPs.
Our final set of MPs are quite straight forward: they want to remain, and if they leave, they want as close a tie to the EU as possible. They don’t risk their seats by campaigning for things like a second referendum. They hate no deal, so give it 0 points: no upside at all. May’s deal and CU aren’t awful, but they are leaving, and they end FoM, so they give each of these 30 points. Norway allows them to keep most of what they want, but they still are ceding leaving, so they give it 80; and if they remain, they get the full 100 points. My minusing the above groups from 650, Jeremy finds there are about 368 MPs in this group.
Now, Bentham sits down and does the following calculation: for each option, he takes group A, and multiples its number of MPs by their utility score, added to same for group B, C and D to get a total utility score for that brexit choice.
He comes up with the following:
|650 MPs||No deal||May||CU||Norway||Remain|
|Remain in 60+ L||112||5||40||40||90||95|
For Bentham it is clear what will happen: as the least utility is from a no-deal, the MPs will obvious make sure this doesn’t happen. As the Norway option is (a) by far the option with the most utility and (b) if put to a vote, only the 65 no-deal MPs would be firmly against it, so it would pass with 500 person majority, Jeremy is confident the MPs will soon release this and chose that option.
As he turns on Parliament TV, he is very confused. Why aren’t MPs applying his simple math? It seems, as a result of the remain MPs refusing to compromise on their exact preferred option, 585 MPs are drifting dangerously close to ending up with their least favourite option. Jeremy retires to his panopticon.