BREXIT – can Britain go it alone on cat-food?

By Whisky, the Black & White Cat

Ian has been off his food since Friday.

He hasn’t wanted to talk about it, but today I planted myself firmly in the doorway and tripped him up, just so that I could make him listen to me.

"Ian," I said, "this can't go on. What's happened?"

Rubbing his nose, he mumbled one word. "Brexit."

Now whilst I have better things to do than concern myself with the petty pace of human affairs, I do try to keep myself abreast of the things that matter. Like the price of catfood on the world market.

"Are you trying to tell me that the United Kingdom is on the point of withdrawing from the European Union?"

"Yes. We all voted for it."

"You mean we half voted for it?"

"Well, yes… but the bigger half won."

I did a swift mental calculation (which happens to be my forte) and quickly arrived at the conclusion that this was all a storm in a teacup. None of my cat food comes from Bad Stinkenhausen, or Roten Fischenheim, or anywhere like that, so how was this going to affect me? But I was concerned for my pet human, as I always am, and I knew I had to make Ian see reason.

"Now hold on a minute. Does anyone in Great Britain really want us to leave the EU? I mean, anyone that matters?"

"It doesn't matter," said Ian. "Everybody had an equal vote whether they mattered or not. It's called democracy."

Well! I thought – what a silly way to run a country. And even if democracy was what you really wanted – what a silly way to do it. In my lifetime nothing like it has ever been attempted in England.

"So everybody had an equal vote? Did everybody actually cast their vote?"

"Well… no. Younger voters stayed away in droves."

"Why? Did they all suppose it wasn't going to affect them?"

"I guess they felt it didn't matter how they voted, because nobody ever pays any attention to what they want."

"Because they themselves don't matter?"

"Something like that…" Ian squirmed a bit as he said it because he could guess what was coming next.

"And yet, for perhaps the first time in English history, every young person entitled to vote had one as good as everyone else's – no safe seats, no wasted votes – and they didn't use it to have their say on such an important issue?"

"I’m sure that's not how they see it."

"Reality check. On Thursday the whole country went to the polls over one simple question: whether Britain should remain in the EU or leave. Everyone thinks the results mean we’re going to leave. Yes or no?"

"Yes!" said Ian, in a sort of deep-throat vehemence which was supposed to signal I was seeing sense at last.

"But there was a 1,269,501 majority. If half those people had voted the other way, say 634,751, the outcome would have been the opposite."

"Well, yes, I suppose so…"

"So this referendum was a measuring device to discover the will of the people?"


"Now come on, Ian, you're trained as a physicist – although it was half a century ago and perhaps things have moved on a bit since then. But surely you remember that measuring instruments have a rated accuracy, such as ±10%. Which was pretty good for Physics in your day. The social scientists never managed better than ±20%, if you can believe even that."

"Yes… but it's not the facts of the matter that matter. It's what people believe."

"Hold on now. We’ve had this nationwide social experiment, in which young people stayed away in droves because they didn't believe their votes counted, or would be counted, or that they themselves counted – whatever – yet we’re asked to believe it was an accurate indication of the people's will, therefore Parliament must obey it?"

"Yes. It's what everyone's been telling us for the last few months."

"Everyone? Who’s 'everyone’?"

"Well… the newspapers. TV. People who know what they're talking about…"

It's a little-known fact, but cats do laugh. Humans think we’re just coughing up fur.

"There's another thing to consider," I said, when I'd recovered enough to speak. "You’ll recall there was a huge storm that very day. It swept across London and the south-east, the heartland of the REMAIN vote, causing widespread flooding and disruption. Mightn’t that have discouraged a good few REMAIN voters? Maybe a million? London alone has a population of 8.6 million."

"Well, too bad! It’s the same as with young people. If they couldn't be bothered to get their lifejackets on, and wade or swim to their polling station, or wherever it had been moved to, then they don't matter either."

"Can I believe what I'm hearing? Here’s a result which any real scientist would call statistically insignificant – a mere 4% majority as judged by a measuring device 20% accurate at best – and now we discover it has an enormous built-in bias towards old people who have nothing better to do with their boring day than totter out and vote? Plus an extra bias in favour of those parts of England which didn't get washed out that day – in which LEAVE voters predominate? And people still believe this referendum signals anything but pure noise?"

"Well… You've got to believe in something. Or democracy isn't possible."

"Okay, let's believe in it. What happens now?"

"We start negotiations with the Council of Europe to withdraw. It could take a long time…"

"I beg your pardon? Surely nothing happens until the head of state triggers Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon? In the UK, that’s the Queen, acting on the advice of her Prime Minister."

"He said he’d trigger Article 50 as soon as the referendum result was announced."

"Yes – but he hasn’t."

"No, he's resigned instead. He wants to leave it to his successor to pull the trigger."

"No, he hasn't resigned. He’s merely announced he’ll stand down in October and let the Conservative party elect a new leader. One who has the courage – or the ignorance – to pull the trigger. But be sure of one thing. When you think of all the fuss and bother it will precipitate, Article 50 is a gun aimed squarely at the leader’s own head."

I saw a gleam begin to dawn in Ian's eyes. But he still needed to convince himself. "Yes but Brexit has got to happen now. Cameron says it must."

"Cameron says… Cameron says! Since when has anyone listened to what Cameron says? It's what he does that matters. Or doesn't do. Like triggering Article 50."

"So the referendum’s all been a big sham? Nobody in Parliament is going to take a blind bit of notice?"

"Oh, they've taken notice all right. The nation has just crept up on the entire political establishment and goosed them. In both Conservative and Labour parties it's a bloodbath. But the fact of the matter is this. Nobody in power is bound in the slightest by the referendum result."

"Yes, but surely…"

"Britain is not ruled by referendum. It's ruled by majority vote in Parliament. Right now the majority of MPs are for remaining in the EU. Why, even the leaders of the LEAVE campaign are saying they don't want to trigger Article 50 just yet. They want to do it… like… well – never. It was only a ploy anyhow."

I licked my paw.

"European leaders all know what's going on. They’re laughing up their sleeves. Lord Hill – you couldn't see his heels for dust. Jean-Claude Juncker is telling our government to shit or get off the pot. Angela Merkel has real style: 'Oh, we don't need to be that beastly to the British.' Meanwhile Cameron is of a mind to let the world and its money markets sweat it out until October. It'll concentrate the mind wonderfully. But if you phone Ladbrokes, I bet they'll offer 1000 to one against Brexit ever taking place."

I see Ian’s got his appetite back. As I dictate this, he’s mining his way through a pile of profiteroles with lashings of squirty cream, plus two cherries on top.

updated: 12:16 11/02/2016