January 2019 has been a month of considerable parliamentary drama in the UK as MPs wrestle over whether to approve the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU. There is no shortage of political punditry and quotes from politicians and the whole episode is proving to be a classic example of uncertainty. For statisticians like myself, uncertainty occurs when you cannot properly price the odds of an event happening unlike risk which occurs when you can price the odds. Since the current state of affairs will ultimately be determined by parliamentary votes one way or the other, is it possible to use parliamentary vote data so far to estimate the odds of certain scenarios?
The voting records of each MP in the House of Commons is recorded by Hansard and they have an extremely useful facility that allows you to download the voting data into a spreadsheet. I have used this to download the data for the Meaningful Vote on 15th January and the 7 Amendments considered on 29th January 2019. I collated all these votes for the 637 MPs who will be able to determine the outcome over the next 2 months and you can download a spreadsheet with this data and my analysis using this link (MPs votes on Brexit v1.1).
My analysis focuses on four votes in particular which were the Meaningful Vote on 15th January and three of the Amendments on 29th January (Cooper, Spelman and Brady). What I wanted to see was whether specific voting patterns were apparent and in the end, 5 patterns or voting blocks emerged. These are listed and summarised in the graphic below.
Out of the 637 voting MPs (13 are unable to vote as explained in the graphic), 614 can be matched exactly to one of the 5 voting blocks shown. For example, 119 MPs voted No-No-No-Aye in the sequence MeaningfulVote-Cooper-Spelman-Brady. I deemed this voting pattern to be supportive of Brexit hence they are coloured blue and called Brexiteers. Conversely, 285 MPs voted N0-Yes-Yes-No which would be the obvious voting pattern for someone opposed to Brexit or to the current deal and hence I have named them Opposers and coloured them gold.
The other 23 MPs did not follow any of these 5 blocks exactly but I decided they could be categorised as being close matches to one of the blocks. In my spreadsheet, you can edit the voting blocks if you wish to see how things might change.
I first presented my thoughts on these voting blocks in a twitter thread which is well worth reading. The key points I made were:-
- As things stand today there are only 3 possible outcomes; No-Deal, Deal or Revoke/Extend Article 50.
- No-Deal is the default outcome unless Parliament explicitly votes for a Deal or to Revoke/Extend Article 50 before 29th March 2019.
- I think it is reasonable to assume that the 124 Brexiteer block would be happy with a No-Deal outcome.
- The Brexiteer block is therefore a blocking minority which has to be overcome to achieve a different outcome.
- For a different outcome, 319 out of the remaining 513 MPs have to agree on an alternative, Deal or Revoke/Extend.
- This places the ball in the Opposers court who have to decide what they want.
- Both Ltd Opposers & Ltd Loyalists don’t want No-Deal but their voting pattern suggests they will be reluctant to Revoke Brexit.
- Given all this, will a majority eventually emerge for a deal?
- At the same time, Loyalists could get a Deal through with Brexiteers and Ltd Loyalists with a 328-309 majority but only if the concerns of the Brexiteers are assuaged.
I do not have enough insight into the debate to say anymore than this. Suffice to say, it feels like a maze that with 57 days to find an alternative exit to the No-Deal exit!
A day later than my Twitter thread, The Daily Telegraph did their own analysis using similar data. They used the same 4 votes as me but added 6 more earlier votes on Brexit related matters. They come to a similar end-point to me in that there does exist a potential majority for a deal if amended but they also explore other scenarios. The most interesting conclusion is that they consider a second referendum very unlikely which probably means the chances of Revocation will be lower as well. If so, we are then in a Deal or No-Deal scenario. Perhaps we need Noel Edmonds to get us through this!