Brexit, a multitude of decision-making case studies

Whether you think Brexit is a good thing or a bad thing, the process so far is a catalogue of spectacularly poor decisions. What can we learn from them?

“Life is journey, not a destination”, a widely misattributed quote goes. The same might be said about the interminable Brexit process. And just like life can be more interesting if it is treated as a journey, so Brexit delivers some interesting observations, in particular regarding some the decisions that were made along the way. Can we draw some lessons from this?

Cameron’s choice

Strictly speaking, Cameron had no choice: the EU membership referendum was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment in the 2015 election. But while the government had a moral obligation to hold it, it was free to choose how to execute it. When you decide to pursue a course of action that has two very different outcomes, it is advisable to have a plan for either of them. The plan, in case the electorate decided the UK should remain a member of the EU was simple: business as usual. The plan, in the opposite case, was… well, what was it?

David Cameron — an optimist without skin in the game? (Image: Wikimedia commons)

May’s choice

Theresa May was a lukewarm Remainer, who would now have to bring Brexit to a good end. Perhaps to assert that she could be trusted with the job, she dialled the political rhetoric to 11, making ‘Brexit means Brexit’ her motto. She talked tough during her first conference as Conservative party leader and prime minister, opting for the most extreme interpretation of the referendum outcome: out of the Customs Union (“not going to be a ‘Norway’ model”), out of the Single Market (“not going to be a ‘Switzerland’ model”), and out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. She repeated these red lines at the famous Lancaster House speech.

Theresa May: tough talking and perseverance no match for reality? (Image: Wikimedia commons)

Parliament’s choice

Theresa May’s government initially intended to start the exit process (by invoking Article 50 of the EU Treaty) without involving parliament. However, a famous case before the Supreme Court led to a ruling that an explicit Act of Parliament was necessary to authorize this invocation.

Parliament: sin in haste, repent at leisure? (image: Wikimedia commons)

Johnson’s choices

Boris Johnson has only been serving as prime minister for a few months, but he has already clocked up several decisions that can be considered questionable. He has a tendency to bullshit, in the philosophical sense: not caring about the truth and only seeking to impress (I can thoroughly recommend Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit). For example, during the Tory leadership race in June he claimed the chances of “no deal” were “a million-to-one against”, but in early September he admitted that “there was a high chance of a no-deal Brexit”. Bullshitting, and having to backtrack on earlier bragging is not exactly reputation-enhancing.

Boris Johnson: impulsive bullshitting? Image: Wikimedia commons)

Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius

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