Donald Trump has been citing Brexit as the model of how he could win the election despite expections, his surrogates of how there might be a shy Trump vote, like Brexit. So what, if any, lessons can we learn about the US election from recent polling experience in Britain?

In 2015 the British polls got the general election wrong. Every company had Labour and Conservative pretty much neck-and-neck, when in reality the Conservatives won by seven points. In contrast, the opinion polls as a whole were not wrong on Brexit, or at least, they were not all that wrong. Throughout the referendum campaign polls conducted by telephone generally showed Remain ahead, but polls conducted online generally showed a very tight race. Most of the online polls towards the end of the campaign showed Leave ahead, and polls by TNS and Opinium showed Leave ahead in their final eve-of-referendum polls.

That’s the first point that the parallel falls down – Brexit wasn’t a surprise because the polls were wrong. The polls were showing a race that was neck-and-neck. It was a surprise because people hadn’t believed or paid attention to that polling evidence. The media expected Remain would win, took polls showing Remain ahead more seriously and a false narrative built up that the telephone polls were more accurately reflecting the race when in the event, those online polls showing leave ahead were right. This is not the case in the US – the media don’t think Trump will lose because they are downplaying inconvenient polling evidence, they think Trump will lose because of the polling evidence consistently shows that.

In the 2015 general election however the British polls really were wrong, and while some of the polls got Brexit right, some did indeed show solid Leave victories. Do either of those have any relevance for Trump?

The first claim is the case of shy voters. Much as 1948 is the famous examples of polling failure in the US, in this country 1992 was the famous mistake, and was put down to “Shy Tories”. That is, people who intended to vote Conservative, but were unwilling to admit it to pollsters. Shy voters are extremely difficult to diagnose. If people lie to pollsters about how they’ll vote before the election but tell the truth afterwards, then it is impossible to distinguish “shy voters” from people changing their minds (in the case of recent British polls, this does not appear to be the case. In both the 2015 election and the 2016 EU referendum recontact surveys found no significant movement towards the Conservatives or towards Leave). Alternatively, if people are consistent in lying to pollsters about their intentions beforehand and lying about how they voted afterwards, it’s impossible to catch them out.

The one indirect way of diagnosing shy voters is to compare the answers given to surveys using live interviewers, and surveys conducted online (or in the US, using robocalls – something that isn’t regularly done in the UK). If people are reluctant to admit to voting a certain way, they should be less embarrassed when it isn’t an actual human being doing the interviewing. In the UK the inquiry used this approach to rule out “shy Tories” as a cause of the 2015 polling error (online polls did not have a higher level of Tory support than phone polls).

In the US election there does appear to be some prima facie evidence of “Shy Trumpers”* – online polls and robopolls have tended to produce better figures for Donald Trump than polls conducted by a human interviewer. However, when this same difference was evident during the primary season the polls without a live interviewer were not consistently more accurate (and besides, even polls conducted without a human interviewer still have Clinton reliably ahead).

The more interesting issue is sample error. It is wrong to read directly across from Brexit to Trump – while there are superficial similarities, these are different countries, very different sorts of elections, in different party systems and traditions. There will be many different drivers of support. To my mind the interesting similarity though is the demographics – the type of people who vote for Trump and voted for Brexit.

Going back to the British general election of 2015, the inquiry afterwards identified sampling error as the cause of the polling error: the sort of people who were able to be contacted by phone and agreed to take part, and the sort of people who joined online panels were unrepresentative in a way that weights and quotas were not then correcting. While the inquiry didn’t specify how the samples were wrong, my own view (and one that is shared by some other pollsters) is that the root cause was that polling samples were too engaged, too political, too educated. We disproportionately got politically-aware graduates, the sort of people who follow politics in the media and understand what is going on. We don’t get enough of the poorly educated who pay little attention to politics. Since then several British companies have adopted extra weights and quotas by education level and level of interest in politics.

The relevance for Brexit polling is that there was a strong correlation between educational qualification and how people voted. Even within age cohorts, graduates were more likely to vote to Remain, people with few or no educational qualifications were more likely to vote to Leave. People with a low level of interest in politics were also more likely to vote to Leave. These continuing sampling issues may well have contributed to some of those pollsters who did it wrong in June.

One thing that Brexit does have in common with Trump is those demographics. Trump’s support is much greater among those without a college degree. I suspect if you asked you’d find it was greater among those people who don’t normally pay much attention to politics. In the UK those are groups who we’ve had difficulty in properly representing in polling samples – if US pollsters have similar issues, then there is a potential source for error. College degree seems to be a relatively standard demographic in US polling, so I assume that is correct already. How much interest people have in politics is more nebulous, less easy to measure or control.

In Britain the root cause of polling mishaps in 2015 (and for some, but not all, companies in 2016) seems to be that the declining pool of people still willing to take part in polls under-represented certain groups, and that those groups were less likely to vote for Labour, more likely to vote for Brexit. If (and it’s a huge if – I am only reporting the British experience, not passing judgement on American polls) the sort of people who American pollsters struggle to reach in these days of declining response rates are more likely to vote for Trump, then they may experience similar problems.

Those thinking that the sort of error that affected British polls could happen in the US are indeed correct… but could happen is not the same as is happening. Saying something is possible is a long way from there being any evidence that is actually is happening. Some of the British polls got Brexit wrong, and Trump is a little bit Brexity, therefore the polls are wrong really doesn’t carry water.


*This has no place in a sensible article about polling methodology, but I feel I should point out to US readers that in British schoolboy slang when I was a kid – and possibly still today – to Trump is to fart. “Shy Trump” sounds like it should refer to surreptitiously breaking wind and denying it.

451 Responses to “What can British polling mishaps tell us about the US election?”

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  1. Neil A,
    “What is very clear to me is that the EU, even before we’ve left, is treating us as an opponent not a friend.”

    I’m sorry, but that’s breathtaking. Moats and beams spring to mind. It is the UK that has been treating the EU as an opponent from the very beginning.

    There are millions of examples (especially in the tabloid press) but maybe the most shocking and topical is Boris Johnson, leader of the Leave campaign, comparing the EU to Nazi Germany during the referendum. That’s utterly, contemptibly offensive to everyone on the continent who had to endure one of the bleakest periods of human history, and he is now our foreign secretary.

    If a foreign politician publicly campaigns on a platform that Britain is a fascist mass-murdering genocidal state trying to take over the world, and then comes to demand a specially-sweetened trade deal favourable to Britain, how would you react?

    This is not difficult stuff: if you want something from someone, at any political level, you have to show respect towards them (at least in public). Instead, Britain’s pro-Brexit politicians like Farage have spent decades saying how ghastly the EU is using the most undiplomatic language imaginable.

    We are to the EU what President Duterte is to the US.

  2. Joseph1832,

    “The EU was very upset that the UK could vote on matters of EU law taking effect post-Brexit!”

    Eh No, the EU was a bit perplexed as to why the UK would want to be involved in setting EU rules that would only take effect post Brexit.

    They equally seemed to think that what May was trying to do was use our voting pre leaving as leverage in the negotiations which they felt was bad faith as for them the two things are entirely separate.

    I don’t think they have a problem with us voting on general matters that concern the here and now but trying to block votes on non Brexit issues to get Brexit concessions is something they would take a dim view of.

    Anyway the summit was dominated by the two biggest issues facing the EU, the Eurozone banking issues and the refugee crisis and the Uk effectively disengaged from both of those years ago, so you can understand EU leaders asking “And just exactly what are you trying to achieve here?”.

    I have to say the whole thing doesn’t bode well for Mays claims that we won’t be in the EU but we’ll still be in Europe and that we will still except real influence.

    I think we’re already starting to look like the old Auntie at a Wedding, propped up in the corner with a Gin and having only been invited because we had to be!


  3. @Somerjohn

    I am a bit confused by your response. I don’t disagree that the EU has it clear that they regard membership of the Single Market as incompatible with immigration controls. Like others here I believe that is a political decision rather than some sort of scientific fact, but I accept it as the genuine view of the EU.

    It sort of seems that we both agree that it is possible for the UK and the EU to arrive at a mutually agreeable trading relationship that is far better than WTO rules but which stops short of single market membership. In this we are opposed by most commentators on this board, who believe that the EU will refuse to make any such deal with us for fear of it working out reasonably well for us and not generating the post-exit economic maelstrom that they need us to have pour encourager les autres.

    Of course, as the EU refuse to speak even a single word on the subject of what this arrangement might look like, it’s hard to know if we’re right.

    You appear to be performing some sort of “reverse windmill” by erecting a windmill in order to accuse me of tilting at it.

    What I have in mind is some sort of comprehensive free trade deal, a bit like CETA, which removes the vast bulk of tariffs between the UK and EU, and which provides arrangements for ensuring where possible that the (currently already harmonised) standards regimes remain compatible. If necessary this could be negotiated over longer than 2 years, with some sort of transitional arrangement (temporary EEA admission for example) to fill the gap. I don’t however accept that negotiating a trade deal with a country that was hitherto in a single market with you needs to be complicated. It suits politicians to present it as more complicated than it is, to block it off as an option in the hope of directing us back to deBrexiting.

  4. Peter Cairns SNP

    “I think we’re already starting to look like the old Auntie at a Wedding, propped up in the corner with a Gin and having only been invited because we had to be!”

    What a weird opinion, if that is not talking your own country down I don’t know what is.

    Utter unpatriotic nonsense.

  5. TOH

    One has to be a little careful when using phrases like ” your own country” with Peter Cairns & his Nationalist friends :-)

  6. Its a tiresome ruse at best.

  7. @John B,

    On pressure on Australia.

    On Britain’s say in the EU.

    Did I raise this? I absolutely accept that the views of a soon-to-be-ex member on future policy have little weight, but I don’t think that’s what I’m talking about. What I said was that the EU were treating us as an opponent even whilst we were still a member. I was referring to broader, softer issues like European solidarity, cooperation etc that are supposed to be at the heart of the EU’s motives. The beaming of Union Flags onto EU capitals and the “We Love You” T-shirts. What I am saying is that the welfare of 65 million EU citizens is now of no interest to the EU leadership. In fact, they want the welfare of those 65 million citizens to be harmed, as that suits their wider purposes.

    On “The Harder the Better” (ooh err, missus).

    I have two thoughts on that. One is that you are Scottish Nationalist looking for as many seeds of division as you can find, in order to try and reap a harvest of internal discord (and that your “no hidden motive” is 180 degrees to the true alignment). Two is that it is a fairly uncharitable view of the British people. Even if someone makes the wrong decision I don’t want them to suffer for it. If you see someone driving without a seat belt, do you think to yourself “I hope he rear ends someone and gets brain damage when his head hits the windscreen”?

    @Edge of Seat,

    I don’t really approve of the Godwinesque language of some of the Brexit campaigners. I think Napoleon is a better comparator by far for the EU than Schicklegruber. But it’s not really what I am getting at.

    When you start believing that the welfare of a population is against your strategic interests, that is when they become an opponent (as opposed to a freind, ally, a neighbour or even a rival). I don’t believe that Boris has ever wanted the EU as a whole to do badly, or for the standard of living of individual EU citizens to be damaged. He wants both sides to prosper, as best as they can.

    Of course there are some nasty people in the UK, as elsewhere, whose antipathy to foreigners includes an active interest in them doing badly. I accept that on the whole those people will have supported Brexit. But I am not one of them, and their views don’t make it hypocritical for me to express mine.

  8. Neil A,
    ” I don’t believe that Boris has ever wanted the EU as a whole to do badly, or for the standard of living of individual EU citizens to be damaged. He wants both sides to prosper, as best as they can.”

    Judging from his stunned and depressed expression on the day after the vote, I don’t believe Boris actually wanted to leave the EU at all. He only did this because he thought he could become Prime Minister, and ran away as soon as it looked like he couldn’t win the vote.

    Also, your comment “In fact, they want the welfare of those 65 million citizens to be harmed, as that suits their wider purposes.” …could you produce some direct evidence of that? Not just assertions by commentators but direct evidence?

    This is the problem: most of the invective directed against the EU has been based on lies, from straight bananas to imminent Turkish membership (which Johnson, incidentally, is now supporting) to an EU army.

    Unless criticism is based on facts from neutral, disinterested sources, it has to be treated as partisan propaganda.

  9. TOH,

    Ok we’ll do it your way.

    We re sitting majestically in the corner in a place of honour that befits our status as a matriarch, like a duchess at Downton Abbey.

    The fact that people aren’t coming over to talk to us can only be because they are in awe of us and go weak kneed in our presence.

    Alternatively you can save me your “unpatriotic” nonsense and deal with the fact that slowly and reluctantly the rest of Europe is starting to wake up to the choice we have made and having accepted it is starting to move on without us.

    You may not like that, I certainly don’t, but shooting the messenger that points it out because you don’t like it is childish.

    How much our role in the world increases or diminishes will be as much down to what others choose to believe as what we want them too and talking ourselves up won’t change that.


  10. @Edge of Seat.

    Ask yourself the questions…

    Will the welfare of UK citizens be harmed by having no trade deal, or a poor trade deal with the EU?

    Do the EU want the UK to have a trade deal with the EU that prevents or at least mitigates that harm?

    If not why not?

  11. Bloomberg reporting that a survation poll for ITV shows people prioritising immigration control:

    56% say immigration control more important than access to single market. 58% approve of Mrs May’s handling of Brexit.

    It also said “Should another referendum take place now, 47 percent of respondents would vote “Leave”, compared with 46 percent who would vote “Remain.” Still a tight race then, with 7 percent undecided.”

  12. Colin

    “One has to be a little careful when using phrases like ” your own country” with Peter Cairns & his Nationalist friends :-)”

    indeed, do you think it was a slip of the pen? :-)

  13. Neil A: ” I don’t however accept that negotiating a trade deal with a country that was hitherto in a single market with you needs to be complicated.”

    Well, good to have you back in the world of rational discourse. For a moment there I thought we’d lost you to an emotional spasm of the “they hate us, thank god we’re leaving even if we lose 10% of GDP” variety.

    OK, so we’re agreed we can’t be in the single market but we can do a deal over free trade in goods. You object to the EU not saying what sort of deal they might offer. Remind you of anyone?

    And you think a FTA should be uncomplicated. But I think you underestimate the issues. For instance, a FTA needs a dispute resolution machinery. For the EU, it’s the ECJ, but that’s presumably a no-no for Brexiters. So a new machinery needs to be set up: and that’s what’s caused much of the public opposition to CETA and TTIP (the ability of corporations to sue governments). Then there’s the issue of third-country imports. If we do a free trade deal with China, and Chinese steel, say, pours in here duty-free, the EU won’t want that steel to head straight on into the EU, duty free. So all the complicated bureaucracy to handle that needs to be set up (I think it’s described as a ‘rules of origin protocol’ which makes it sound deceptively simple). I could carry on in this vein at some length if you want me to…

    Just as May won’t reveal her negotiating position until she has to (and until she’s worked out what it is), so the EU is going to have to work out its position. And that will be time consuming because decision-making isn’t in the hands of a handful of cronies but depends on achieving consensus between many stakeholders. Contrary to Brexiter myth, the EU isn’t a monolithic, domineering “they”, it’s 27 separate countries trying to establish a common position. On both sides, it makes sense to spend the time until A50 is invoked on working out objectives and negotiating strategies.

    As Edge of Seat points out eloquently above, if we are offended by some of the straight talking from some EU leaders, we should look at the anti-EU venom that’s been pouring out of this country’s media and politicians for decades. On the whole they have shown remarkably thick skins; we should be able to take a little of what we so abundantly give out.

  14. Peter Cairns

    “You may not like that, I certainly don’t, but shooting the messenger that points it out because you don’t like it is childish.”

    My comments were in no way childish. You were in my opinion totally unpatriotic in using the language you used. I had no problem with the message just the language.

    As to the rest of Europe moving without us that’s exactly what I want, not least because as you well know I expect the EU to fall apart following the collapse of the Euro.

  15. Somerjohn

    “Contrary to Brexiter myth, the EU isn’t a monolithic, domineering “they”, it’s 27 separate countries trying to establish a common position. ”

    As a Brexiter ( and I’ve never been a fan of myths) I think the EU is both those things, one of the many reasons I am quite sure it will ultimately fail

  16. A Richmond Park by-election looks like it could go to the Lib Dems. They performed exceptionally well in Witney, and a similar improvement would put them back in contention. But what would put the Conservatives in trouble is that Zac Goldsmith held his seat on the basis of being the closest you can get to a Lib Dem while still being in the Conservative party. With the seat being very pro-EU, and opposed to Heathrow expansion, It will be a lot easier for the Lib Dems to find a credible replacement for Zac Goldsmith than the conservatives could.

  17. @Somerjohn

    I sometimes wonder if you really read what I write.. Taken as a whole, I can’t really see how anyone could think that my opinions are what you seem to have mistaken them to be. It seems sometimes you take a few words from a middle of a sentence and ascribe meanings to them that are not justified based on the rest of the comment, or the context of previous comments.

    But yes it’s good to discuss on the basis of mutual understanding!

    I accept that there needs to be an arbitration body, although I don’t necessarily think that the ECJ is a no-no. For some Brexiters it is red-line, perhaps but for most it is not in the same league as immigration control.

    And of course it may be possible for the UK to cede jurisdiction over a limited range of legal issues (trade and related matters) to the ECJ without it being our final court of arbitration in all things.

    I’d also point out that re-badging of goods within the EU is not exactly fully under control as it is… The UK is less of an offender than most simply because smuggling things into the UK is a little harder than to EU countries with land borders to non-EU states.

    No doubt consignments of Chinese steel might still be passed off as British even with arrangements in place. It will be a law enforcement issue.

    I don’t see it as a massively time-consuming thing to design. The problem will be, as with CETA etc, that if the body is not the ECJ then EU countries/regions may baulk at allowing UK companies to take cases to it.

    There are of course precedents with the Swiss submitting to the ECJ and Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein coming under the EFTA court, set up to avoid just such a cession of jurisdiction.

    As to silence on negotiating positions. Of course it makes sense. You shouldn’t make pronouncements on negotiations that haven’t started yet, beyond broad sentiments.

    I think some EU figures have been breaching this, however. Any statement about the UK not “benefiting” from Brexit is a public discussion of a negotiating position. They simply shouldn’t be doing it. The reason they are is because such statements aren’t so much to do with the negotiations themselves by part of an effort to persuade the UK not to go down that road in the first place.

  18. TOH,

    “You were in my opinion totally unpatriotic in using the language you used.”

    So how would you describe a UK that is thought to be of diminished relevance and importance to their concerns by our near neighbours.

    If they have something they think is more important than us to look, what do you suggest we do, throw a tantrum to get their attention.

    Which particular form of words to show how we aren’t as important to them as we want to be would you use.


  19. Neil A

    I’d suggest the welfare of EU citizens should be the EUs focus. They should be ambivalent about non citizens and ex citizens alike. If there is a deal to be done which would improve both of our people then it’s make sense to do that.

    If they consider giving us a deal which would weaken the political stability of the EU which in turn would hurt some EU citizens, then it’s rational to not give us that particular deal.

    So the limits of the deal will be one which doesn’t look like an attractive option for other EU countries to follow suit. I suspect what we are aiming for is “hard Brexit with tinkering around the edges” and Europe will limit that tinkering so that it ends up as an unattractive deal for anyone looking to follow our model.

    Seems to be a fairly rational position and not about “punishing” just about “not rewarding” us for Brexit.

  20. @Jayblanc,

    I think the plan is for Zac to stand as an Independent. In which case, I think he might get through with a combination of the bulk of the Tory vote and a big slice of potential LibDems.

    In the event that the LDs did take the seat, I don’t think the government would be massively uncomfortable. It would replace a Brexiteer with a Remainer, further complicating the mathematics over A50 etc, but it I don’t think it would be seen as a colossal upset for the reasons you outline. The government would also be rid of Goldsmith making waves about Heathrow in parliament for the next 4 years. His LD replacement would no doubt splash about, but unless they pick a celebrity of some kind it’s hard to see how nine LDs will cause significantly bigger ripples than eight.

    And there is also a risk, as although the LDs are against any new runways in the SE, this position faces a lot of opposition from all sorts of quarters. Highlighting it might win votes in one category and lose votes in others.

    I say this from no particular position of interest. I am generally against development of green fields full stop, whether for houses, roads or airports. I don’t really care if other airports in Europe or elsewhere get bigger than ours. If too many people are flying through the UK for our current capacity, I’d rather look at reducing the demand than increasing the number of flights. In that sense it is probably an area where I am more LD than Tory.

  21. @Alan

    The accepted wisdom of Remainers is that Brexit will be a disaster whatever we do. So it’s hard to see any prospect of it looking like a “reward” for the UK even with the most well-meaning of tinkering.

    Unless of course it might not actually turn out to be a disaster…. In which case steps have to be taken to correct that.

  22. Trade deals can be very complex and I don’t expect rapid agreement. The case of steel mentioned earlier is a good example. Suppose the UK agrees to import cheap Chinese steel and then this is used by British manufacturers. This would obviously put EU manufacturers of similar products at a disadvantage. It would thus be simple common sense for the EU to impose some sort of tariff to redress the ballance. The only way a single market can work is if every member is playing by the same rules and deals we make with other countries would mean we were operating under different rules.

    I still believe that in terms of our trading relationship with the EU, we will have to run with whatever the 27 decide. Whether that is detrimental to both parties or not, is dependent on what the 27 can themselves agree on. We are not part of these negotiations so, whatever we may wish for, it is not our decision

  23. Peter Cairns SNP

    “I think we’re already starting to look like the old Auntie at a Wedding, propped up in the corner with a Gin and having only been invited because we had to be!”

    Just read what you wrote again Peter. I think my description of it as “unpatriotic nonsense” was exactly right.

  24. TOH,

    “You were in my opinion totally unpatriotic in using the language you used.”

    At least it means Peter isn’t a scoundrel! :-)

  25. Neil A

    Sensible post, I agree with your opening sentence, and first three paragraphs. It’s my own feeling on what might happen if he stands as a anti Heathrow expansion independent.

  26. OLDNAT

    As you know happy to be called a scoundrel if I get Brexit on my terms. :-)

  27. Neil A

    I would suggest that mitigating that pain isn’t the job of the EU. I don’t expect any favours from them.

    If things are so bad that no one can use the argument “It’s a price worth paying” that will suit the EU.

    If any businesses move from here to the continent, presumably that would help the EU countries where those businesses moved to. It’s in their interest to shake the tree a little and see what falls into their lap. If it’s 10s of billions worth in tax revenues from the financial sector I expect they would be rather pleased.

  28. Not sure if this story has been highlighted before

    Australia has ruled out negotiating free-trade deals with Theresa May’s government until Britain has formally completed its departure from the European Union.

    Seems sensible for other countries to follow that strategy. I’d imagine it makes it much more likely that they will get a favourable deal, as the UK rushes to salvage some kind of trading arrangement.

  29. Neil A,

    “The accepted wisdom of Remainers is that Brexit will be a disaster whatever we do.”

    Not at all.

    If there is an accepted position at all, it is that it is the wrong choice and that it won’t make us better off or more influential.

    It’s more a whimper than a bang.

    We will lose more than we gain and life will be harder than it would have been.

    More intangible but at the heart of Remainers disappointment is that we will from now on be spectators as the Continent we are part of is shaped without us.

    it’s also a contrasting, and no doubt deemed “unpatriotic” by some, view that we have decided to walk away from the huge challenges Europe face.

    We have chosen to look after ourselves first and despite all the talk of British Pluck and Determination, lack the strength of will to stick it out and stand with others in dark times through both a financial and refugee crisis.

    It’s a bit like Dunkirk.

    One side see it as one of our finest hours when the Nation rallied in it’s hour of greatest need, while the other sees it as a humiliating defeat where we desperately scrambled to save what we could after our enemy drove us into the Sea.

    Both views are equally correct and both have merit.

    Whats wrong is believing that only one is correct and of merit and calling those that see it as a military disaster “Unpatriotic”


  30. @Oldnat,

    It’s old ground, around the “talks are illegal” theme.

    I don’t think it prevents an ongoing dialogue between the two governments aimed at minimizing the time taken to conclude formal talks.

    It’s also part of the pressure I was referring to earlier from the EU. After it’s their laws that it would be against…

    @Peter Cairns,

    I am glad you are so sanguine. I think you will probably agree that you are in a minority amongst Remain commentators.


    I don’t expect anyone to mitigate any pain. I don’t even mind trying to make sure that they feel as little pain as possible. What I don’t appreciate is attempts to create additional pain in order to make a point.

    After all, you expect the outcome of Brexit to be so detrimental that the extinction of your prospects requires you to emigrate. Is that not pain enough?

  31. I agree with Peter (God help me).

  32. @Peter

    Diversion onto Dunkirk, as we have done Battles quite a lot recently.

    I think there is a nomenclature problem.

    The BEF getting its a** handed to it by the German army during the invasion of France = massive, embarrassing defeat.

    Getting most of the BEF off the beaches intact (if largely unequipped) through astounding acts of heroism and teamwork = great victory.

    It depends what you mean by “Dunkirk”. I tend to think of it as the latter, rather than the former.

    Going back to the analogy, I see where you’re going with it but I would point out that May has been very emphatic that she wants cooperation and coordination with the EU on all of the issues facing Europe and the world to continue as intensely as is possible. And the UK is hardly the worst offender in the “stood by and did nothing” stakes.

  33. Neil A

    “I don’t think it prevents an ongoing dialogue between the two governments aimed at minimizing the time taken to conclude formal talks.”

    How would that be in Australia’s interests – unless the UK signalled early on in such backdoor chats, that it was prepared to cede much more to Australia, than the UK would gain?

  34. As a slight change of subject, what about the longer-term future after Brexit? Of course there are many imponderables, but in a scenario where the EU survives the next 20 years and Putin goes followed by better relations with Russia, I wonder if we might see a revival of an alliance between UK and Russia? It’s what we’ve traditionally done when mainland Europe has become stronger than we like – e.g. against Napoleon and he-who-shall-not-be-named-because-of-Godwin’s-Law.

  35. Neil A

    Exactly, I don’t see what those nasty Europeans are doing beyond “no special trade deal if you leave the single market of your own volition” to inflict additional pain. I don’t see what that could do more than have no trade deal to inflict more pain. (Aside from the rational attempt to try and shift some UK business to the continent, as I’m sure we’ll try to do the reverse with our brand new internationalist approach to the world)

    If we end up out of the EU, single market, everything and have zero trade deals with the EU, that wouldn’t constitute punishment. That is the default baseline position of being outside the EU, anything else that can improve on that would presumably be of benefit to both sides.

    If they started raising tariffs above WTO guidelines to ensure we suffered even further, then I might agree with you that they were acting to punish. I don’t really see any prospect of that happening, do you?

  36. @Oldnat

    Do you believe that free trade agreements are in the interest of both parties?

    If so, do you not believe that the earlier a free trade agreement is in position the better for both sides?

    I accept there is some give and take in negotiations, but I think trade talks are being presented as far too much of an exploitative, zero-sum bank robbery and not enough of an exercise in mutual self-interest.

    Besides which, some countries are actually “friends”.

  37. Pete B.

    I have to admit, as the Admiral Kutzenov sailed up the channel and the French were making hostile noises about the UK, I did wonder what would happen if we were to let the Russians build a naval base at Dover…..

    On a serious note, I don’t think it’s really a consideration. Our strategic interests remain very much at one with the NATO and the EU, and Russia’s aren’t entirely rational I think. The obvious future for Russia would be in joining “the team” rather than striving against it, but they are too proud for that.

    Economically, Russia is a basket case and that’s unlikely to change. She has useful natural resources, but they are not a substitute for trade from the EU. She might take some of our agricultural products though, if the EU puts 20% on them.

    Demographically, Russia is shrinking and weakening. Looking back in 20 years time I think she will look on 2016 as something of a high water mark for her global influence.

  38. @Neil A

    Well Regulated Free Trade agreements are in the interest of both parties.

    It’s the “Well Regulated” part that causes the disputes. One countries standards and regulations, are another country’s needless trade hampering red tape. The EU have historically taken a very strong line on this, if you want to sell within the EU you have to meet EU standards, and they do not like weakening those standards to get a trade deal. No milk products with growth hormone fed cows, safety standards for toys, environmental regulation… The EU is directly set against lowing it’s standards to trade.

    The EU also consider that full-and-free Trade can only take place with free movement of the workforce. So even their “free trade” agreements do not go as far as full access to the common market without freedom of movement.

    There has been no indication that the UK will get special treatment for being a former member, other than a potential “resumed” EFTA membership offer. Even an independent “free trade deal” will still mean that UK companies have to obey the bulk of EU regulations.

  39. @Alan,

    Perhaps you could have a chat with Somerjohn about the likelihood of there being no trade deals at all between the UK and the EU.

    As for “special” trade deals, I am not sure what this means.

    All the UK will be looking for is to minimize the tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade in both directions. Of course the EU will look to protect certain sectors from UK exports, and vice versa, but in the round the process is in both parties’ interests.

    Because of the starting point, any punitive attitude is going to look pretty blatant. If a restaurant chain in Italy has been receiving weekly deliveries of cuttlefish from the UK quite happily, they may face an order to stop and find another source. That source may be more expensive, or may not have sufficient supply. And there will be no cover. The standards match, the supply route is in place, the financial relationships already exist. You’d have to actively put an end to it.

    That’s a different beast to foregoing future trading relationships that don’t exist yet.

  40. @Jayblanc

    I think it quite unlikely that the UK will seek to adopt standards that are lower than those of the EU. Some farmers have posited such moves in order to improve productivity. From my positions on other issues it might not surprise you to learn that I would be against that. I am more interested in preservation of natural habitats than in yields.

  41. @Neil A

    If we end up adopting EU regulation anyway, what then of our much valued sovereignty?

  42. Neil A

    I didn’t say it was likely that we will end up with no arrangements, just that it should be considered the default position and any trade deal will have to be negotiated up from zero rather than down from what we have now.

    I look at it as any form of deal in future we get as a “benefit” as opposed to looking at any less than we get now as a “punishment or loss”.

    If we decide to move to an arrangement that involves tariffs on cuttlefish then either the restaurant pays the tariffs or looks to find a new supplier. I have no idea if cuttlefish were included in CETA to know of our chances of get tariff free trading of mollusks in the future.

    I meant special arrangements for being a former member, such as a la carte access to the single market for example which no other non-EU country could be expected to gain. I expect us to be treated similarly to Canada (quite possibly too similarly) if we choose “isolation with tinkering”. Where there is mutual interest in lowering barriers it will happen in time after negotiation.

  43. Neil A

    “Do you believe that free trade agreements are in the interest of both parties?”

    Of course – but both sides don’t necessarily benefit equally.

    If one party is desperate to conclude one, then they are far more likely to concede on fractious issues, in order to avoid further delay.

    The other party isn’t being “unfriendly” by securing the maximum amount of leverage for their own position. They are just doing what is best for their country.

    If you think that some states will fail to press home an advantage for their people and economy, because of some association, then that is one of those unsubstantiated wishes for which there is a significant lack of evidential support.

    Still, maybe Australia maybe won’t press for favoured status on immigration to the UK, because their “friend” isn’t very keen on foreigners concreting over green fields. :-)

  44. the other Howard,
    “Coincidence? ”
    It was about 5% voting remain though they would be worse off if they stayed, and about 5% voting leave thought they would be worse off if they leave. Massive correlation. A doctor would have a tickertape parade if their new treatement turned out to work so well as financial self interest did at the referendum.

    Come on, this is a forum for discussing polls. This is hugeley statistically significant.

    “Are you really suggesting that cutting immigration/control of borders was not the main reason for many pro Brexit voters?”

    It was a prerequisite for everyone voting leave that they believed they would either be better off or no different economically. Everyone who thought the reverse voted to remain. Once they believed there was not a financial issue at stake, then they voted on immigration, etc.

    To be honest, I also think there are too many people in the UK. But I happen to believe they contribute more to the economy than many a native, and I believe leaving will be seriously bad for the economy. Its a bottom line economy decision. I also believe there is plenty of room here if we just got on with building the necessary infrastructure.

    Even if all those people tell pollsters it was not a decision based on their view of the economy (because they honestly do not think it was), it has to be explained how there is a greater correlation between their view on economic outlook and how they voted than anything else.

  45. Peter Cairns SNP

    ” A UK that is thought to be by some, of diminished relevance and importance to their concerns by it’s near neighbours.”

    The above would be fine.

  46. @Oldnat,

    I don’t see freedom of movement between the UK and Australia leading to an increase in the UK population, do you?!


    I too expect us to be treated similarly to Canada.


    We would have more sovereignty, but not 100% sovereignty. I don’t think 100% sovereignty has ever really existed anywhere. And the sovereignty we had remitted would be recoverable. Besides which, I don’t much care about sovereignty as a concept (so long as it’s recoverable). I suspect for every person who really cares about it, you’ll find ten whose preoccupation, like mine, is inward migration.

  47. Danny

    We just totally disagree. The public were told repeatedly by the metropolitan elite generally, by the IMF, by the Chancellor, the banks, the CBI et al (project fear) that it would be an economic disaster yet they voted by a clear margin to leave the EU.

    Sorry but you have got it completely wrong, and the voters still feel the same as the ITV Survation poll referred to earlier shows:-

    “As Britain prepares to exit the European Union, over half of adults (56%) polled cite an influx of foreigners as more worrisome than losing EU trade benefits, said the poll conducted by Survation Ltd for ITV plc. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they approve May’s handling of the divorce, with only a quarter saying that they disapproved.”

  48. peter cairns,
    “If there is an accepted position at all, it is that it is the wrong choice and that it won’t make us better off or more influential.”

    No. the polling says 80% of people who voted to remain believed they would be economically worse off if we left.
    The remain people were massively unanimous on this, only 3% believed they would be better off leaving.

    The leave people were less unanimous and only about 57% believed they would be better off leaving. But there was a big block of neither better nor worse who voted to leave and still only 7% who believed they would be worse off leaving actually voted to do so.

  49. The other howard,
    “Sorry but you have got it completely wrong,”

    Question bottom of page 5, “Do you think Britain will be economically better or
    worse off after we leave the European Union, or
    will it make no difference?”

    Their result is what I keep posting. If people think it is wrong for some reason, that needs explaining. This is not the only survey showing the same result.

    “The public were told repeatedly by the metropolitan elite generally, by the IMF, by the Chancellor, the banks, the CBI et al (project fear) that it would be an economic disaster yet they voted by a clear margin to leave the EU.”

    Sorry, but the margin would be pretty close to random error in a typical poll. Whatever it is, it is not a clear margin. Whether the financial advice was right or wrong, those that believed in Brexit doom voted to remain and those who believed in Brexit boom voted to leave. If we ignore the dont know/no difference brigade, then the nation believes 2:1 that we will be worse off leaving, and voted accordingly. However the 1/3 of the population with no clear view on the economy voted heavily to leave.

    ““As Britain prepares to exit the European Union, over half of adults (56%) polled cite an influx of foreigners as more worrisome than losing EU trade benefits, said the poll conducted by Survation Ltd for ITV plc.”
    I asume they were asked to make a choice on the presumption of leaving, so remain was not an option. This is asking the losers which of the winners sides they prefer. It is a different question to how they feel about leave/remain or the asscoiated economic benefits. The same survey says the leave/ remain choice remains about the same?

  50. “As a slight change of subject, what about the longer-term future after Brexit?”


    Well s’pose we might rejoin…

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