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What a second Brexit referendum might look like

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Ballot options: Nomura’s predictions for what the public may be asked in a second Brexit referendum. Photo: Nomura

The idea of a second Brexit referendum once looked far fetched. But with the government’s deal almost certain to be rejected, little sign of a majority supporting an alternative, and the deadline for Britain to leave the EU fast approaching, the odds of another vote are now shortening.

A poll of the British public ahead of Christmas found that 53% were now in favour of a second Brexit referendum and betting market comparison website Oddschecker.com currently puts the chance of a second vote at 7/4. Investment banks Nomura and JPMorgan both said last month the chances of a second referendum were increasing.

But a big question remains: What would the public be asked if there was to be a second referendum?

Nomura has tried to answer that question. In a major research piece titled “Brexit Guide 2019” that was sent to clients on Tuesday, the Japanese investment bank sets out three potential options, illustrated in the graphic at the top of this article. They are:

  1. Single two-option: This would be a similar vote to the original referendum, with voters asked to chose between two options. There are three possible combinations of two options: prime minister Theresa May’s draft Brexit deal or remaining in the EU; a no deal Brexit or remaining in the EU; and May’s draft Brexit deal or a no deal Brexit. The drawback of this format is that it would necessarily cut out a third option (May’s day, no deal, or no Brexit), which could be seen as undemocratic.
  2. A multiple choice vote: To combat this, the public could be asked to chose between the three options main options: May’s deal, no deal, or no Brexit. The big draw back here is that the results could be difficult to interpret — what if the vote is equally split between the three?
  3. A multiple question ballot: Perhaps the most radical option would be a ballot asking multiple questions sequentially. This would most likely take the form of an initial question asking if people approve of May’s deal and then a second question for those who don’t approve asking what they would prefer between no deal and no Brexit. This would give politicians a fuller picture of the public’s views, allowing them to chose the option that would appease the most people. However, it could create tactical voting dilemmas and also leave everyone unsatisfied if MPs opt for the least bad option.

Nomura’s George Buckley and team wrote: “One complication with these alternatives is they are likely to require additional legislation owing to the unprecedented nature of the vote, and this may be problematic because of the time constraints imposed on the extension of Article 50 primarily by the European parliamentary elections.”

While campaign groups such as The People’s Vote are pushing for a second referendum in the hopes of reversing Brexit, Nomura said, “Support for Brexit has dimmed, but not enough to claim Remain would win.”

The bank still believes a deal-based Brexit is the most likely outcome. It also sees a Labour election victory as more likely than a second referendum when it comes to the possible political ramifications of Brexit.

Shifting odds: The betting market and Nomura’s probability of the outcomes of Brexit and possible political ramifications. Photo: Nomura