Press Release: 'Breaking the Brexit impasse: achieving a fair, legitimate and democratic outcome’- NIESR Review Commentary

Published: 01st February 2019

In the Commentary of the February 2019 National Institute Economic Review no 247, due to be published next week, NIESR’s Director Jagjit Chadha together with the University of Cambridge’s Dr Toke Aidt and Professor Hamid Sabourian, both of the Faculty of Economics, suggest a way out of the Brexit vote impasse, based on the social choice literature.

Rejecting the mantra that no majority can be found for any proposal in the current stalemate, they argue that it is indeed possible to establish a majority for a plan in a situation with multiple alternatives in a way that guarantees not just fairness but democratic legitimacy.

Prof Chadha said: “When faced with multiple options it’s not enough to compare each plan to all others plans in head to head votes to find one which can win a majority against the others. Such a process is unlikely to locate a winner (called a Condorcet Winner or CW after 18th century philosopher and mathematician the Marquis de Condorcet), which reflects the majority view in the sense that there is no other plan that can win a majority vote against it.

He continued: “Democratic legitimacy, however, requires more than that. Two other considerations are essential. First, any alternative that commands some support from some group must be on the agenda.  This is the open agenda principle. Secondly, any alternative should be treated in the same way.  This is the neutrality principle that ensures fairness.  This means that the voting procedure does not itself bias the final choice. Violating neutrality would expose the procedure to the accusation that the process was rigged in some way.”

Once Parliament is called upon to express its preference on a set of alternatives (the Government’s deal, WTO Brexit, Norway++, Canada++, Remain, a new referendum and so on) the authors propose a multi-round voting procedure, dubbed ‘The Weakest Link’, in which in each round the MPs would vote between all remaining alternatives and the one with the least votes would be eliminated. Voting continues until only one alternative is left. This procedure builds on the open agenda by considering all options, satisfies the principle of neutrality, and delivers a genuine majority winner in the highly likely case that MPs will be voting strategically. A variant of this procedure is explored in the paper that deals with a population of voters in which there are both strategic and sincere voters. 

Prof Chadha concluded: “We believe that there is a strong case for adopting some form of our procedure to resolve the Brexit impasse in the House of Commons.  It would have to be undertaken in a sequence of indicative votes that would end with a binding vote between the two last alternatives.  One could also envisage that the procedure could be used to decide which two alternatives should be on the ballot in any eventual new referendum.”



Notes for editors:

The Commentary’s authors are Toke Aidt Reader, University of Cambridge and Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge; Jagjit Chadha, NIESR Director; and Hamid Sabourian, Professor of Economics and Game Theory, University of Cambridge.

Breaking the Brexit impasse: achieving a fair, legitimate and democratic outcome will be published in the National Institute Economic Review No. 247 February 2019.

This journal is a quarterly, peer reviewed, economic and social sciences journal. The full Review is published from midnight on Wednesday 6 February.

For the full paper or quotes from the authors please contact the NIESR Press Office:

Paola Buonadonna on 020 7654 1923 / p.buonadonna [at]  

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