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Brexit - random jottings through the maelstrom

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 26, 2016
The three days since the Brexit result was announced have seen a maelstrom of speculation, aggression and armageddon pedling. Some random thoughts on a number of matters that have occurred to me through the chaos.


I’ve held off on any attempt at a Brexit analysis until today for the simple reason that the past few days have consisted primarily of noise, hysteria and armageddon pedling on all sides.

Throughout the maelstrom, it’s been near impossible for anyone to come up with a confident assertion of what’s going on. The most cliched phrase since Friday AM has easily become, 'Nobody knows what happens next'.

With that in mind, some random jottings that have formed over the past few days. Don’t expect a rational, logical argument to emerge here - it’s too early for that - but here's some talking points that have formed in my head. 


There’s been lots of comment about data sovereignty, data protection etc. There’s less than 2 years until the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) kick in.

That this comes in the form of a regulation rather than a directive means that all EU states have to implement the new rules. There can be no tweaking of the rules to make the local economy and data regime more favorable to US providers - that’s you I’m looking at Ireland!.

After Article 50 is finally triggered, it will be at least 2 years before a Brexit can be achieved, so the GDPR will be put into effect in the UK. The question then becomes whether or not it survives after Brexit.

Personally I can’t see why UK data protection laws post-Brexit wouldn’t essentially mirror the GDPR. It would make trading with the EU easier, as well as not placing additional burden on US firms.

What might happen would be the removal of some elements of GDPR that the UK government had objected to, most notably the Right to be Forgotten clauses. But overall, I can’t see why a GDPR-analog isn’t the most likely outcome.

Inward investment

For decades, the UK has been the first stop for US providers pushing into Europe. Is that going to continue post-Brexit? Or will we see a shift of headquarters and investment into EU states?  With cloud providers heading into Europe and setting up in-region data centers, will the UK lose out post-Brexit?

This one is going to depend heavily on the nature of any trading agreement that is negotiated between the EU and the UK, but the idea that there will be no more investment in the UK market is ludicrous. The UK public sector market alone, which is a primary reason for many US providers setting up data centers here, is going to make it worthwhile. I can’t see a scenario in which the IBMs, Oracles and Salesforces of the world don’t see a reason to invest in the UK.

For the record, Salesforce issued a statement on Friday that:

Salesforce remains committed to the success of our customers in the region and we plan to continue building on our presence in the UK and across Europe.

There is also a view among some of the US tech market that the more zealous of the Eurocrats in Brussels have a protectionist leaning when it comes to US tech firms in the marketplace. The UK is certainly perceived as a more US-receptive market than a number of other EU states.

Mark Woodhams, EMEA Managing Director at NetSuite, makes the point:

While some inward investment from both inside and outside the EU may change, the UK will remain a highly attractive place for investment thanks to the clusters of skills around the country – fintech, financial services and motor car manufacturing are obvious examples.

The UK government will, in theory, have more direct control and flexibility over the investments it can make, and potentially more funds to do so in the medium term. This could all be very positive, especially with ensuring innovative startups and SMBs – who lie at the heart of the UK Economy - continue to thrive through this significant period of change.

That point about flexibility is well-made. One of the reasons that Ireland has been so successful in wooing US tech providers to set up shop there has been the favorable tax and financial regime on offer. Ireland’s corporation tax is lower than that of the UK and most of the rest of Europe. What a post-Brexit UK chose to do to incentivise inward investment would - theoretically - be up to it, but it would - again theoretically - be a lot easier to sugar the pill and attract overseas tech investment. 

Social media as echo chamber

Less about economic and industry impact, but once again the referendum emphasizes the echo chamber nature of Twitter and Facebook. The other cliche to have emerged over the past few days has been the meme of, “But none of my friends on Facebook were voting Leave/Remain (delete as applicable)”.

Well, no, of course they weren’t, you numpties! That doesn’t mean that there weren’t millions of other people about to vote the opposite way to you.

During the Scottish referendum a couple of years ago, it’s said that the SNP leader Alec Salmond was utterly confident of success in large part due to the positivity on the party’s social media networks. But those networks were essentially a closed community of the party faithful and as such the picture being painted was false.

As the US Presidential Election approaches, we’re going to be told time and again that this one is the election that will be fought and won on social media. To which I say, pish, bosh and twaddle.

They told us that about the past 2 general elections in the UK.

They told us that about the Scottish referendum.

They told us that about the EU referendum.

And They were wrong.

Twitter et al will of course play a part in the outreach to the electorate. Social media will provide a platform for Trump to insult and abuse people and for Clinton to respond in kind. But I don’t believe for a second that it will change the voting predilictions of anyone.

Would e-voting have made a difference?

In 2016, the main way to register a vote in the EU referendum was to go to a town hall or local school or similar venue, take a pencil and a piece of paper into a booth, mark a cross, then put that piece of paper in a box. That box’s contents were then hand-counted to produce a result.

While at least this process doesn’t result in hanging chads, there’s almost no digital dimension to this at all. There was a web site for electoral registration, from which those who could not vote in person could request a postal ballot. This too is only partially a digital experience. You still got sent a piece of paper in the post and had to send it back via snail mail. There’s no capacity for an online vote to be sent from your phone, computer or tablet.

This takes us to another familiar electoral cliche - more people voted for the winner of The X-Factor/Strictly Come Dancing/The Voice/Love Island/Big Brother (delete as applicable again),  than vote in a General Election. It’s an argument that doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny and in the case of the EU referendum, the turnout was the highest for any poll for a quarter of a century.

But would it have been higher if we had e-voting? The weather was appalling on Thursday, while the rail networks in the South East of England ground to a halt in the late afternoon/evening.  Personally my view is that if you didn’t go out to vote for fear of a bit of rain, then you take what’s coming to you when the results come in. But would trapped commuters have made use of being able to vote remotely when unable to get to the polling stations?

And with the older generation v the younger generation divide being emphasized, would 18-24 year olds have voted if they could have used their phones? It’s a depressing fact that, depending on which analysis you believe, anything as little as 25-27% of eligible 18-24 year olds actually bothered to vote in the most important vote of their lives.

Personally I think it’s a patronising assumption to suggest that ‘da kidz’ would have engaged more with the vote had they been able to use their iPads to do so, but the question of e-voting really does need to be put on the table. Yes, there are security questions and privacy questions to be addressed, but it's time we moved on. 

‘Shy Voters’ lie online as well as face-to-face

Remember the last General Election? Remember all those opinion polls that were united in their assertion that voters were about to return a (probably minority) Labour government? Then remember the seismic shock of the BBC exit poll that tipped everything on its end and reminded us that what people tell pollsters they’re going to do isn’t necessarily what they actually do in the privacy of the ballot booth.

In the case of the General Election, the so-called Shy Tories were the ones who concealed their intent. In the case of the EU referendum, it looks like they were joined by Shy Labour outside of London and Scotland. 

Let's face it, in the EU referendum the polls were all over the place. Leave ahead one day, Remain the next, neck-and-neck the day after that. Nobody was getting at the truth. 

What strikes me as interesting is that while the ‘Shy Voter’ factor is something that is understandable in human nature terms when actually face-to-face with a pollster or talking to one on the phone, it also seems to play as well with anonymised online polling. Several polling firms produced phone results and online results on the same day. At the end of the day, the polls were meaningless.

Lesson learned - online makes it easier - theoretically - to gather political polling data; it does nothing to guarantee improved accuracy.

My take

Er...nobody knows what happens next.  (c) absolutely everybody

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