Article 50 Will Be Triggered When Illogic Dictates

STRAATSBURG - Vlaggen voor het gebouw van het Europese Parlement. ANP XTRA LEX VAN LIESHOUT

Now Britian has voted to leave the EU, there is a lot of discussion about at the moment over when or if Article 50 will be triggered.

Spinning Hugo suggests that it may never happen. He points out that the negotiating position of the UK is far stronger while Article 50 has not been invoked… and it will be instantly worse once it is invoked.  Since EU leaders have declared that they will not begin negotiations until Article 50 is triggered by the British Government, a stalemate has arisen.

This is a compelling analysis, but I am reminded of the the Unexpected Hanging Paradox:

A judge tells a condemned prisoner that he will be hanged at noon on one weekday in the following week but that the execution will be a surprise to the prisoner. He will not know the day of the hanging until the executioner knocks on his cell door at noon that day.

Using logic, the prisoner deduces that he will never be hanged. When the executioner knocks on his door on a Wednesday he is therefore totally surprised.

The big winners from the Brexit referendum result have been game theorists, who examine strategy, co-cooperation, competition, and ways of signalling intentions to other players in a situation.  As well as the complex Brexit negotiations and Article 50 there’s quite a lot else for game theorists to analyse:

  • People voting Leave, even though they would have preferred Remain, in order to ‘send a message’ to politicians
  • Poor areas that receive lots of EU funding voting Leave, presumably because they believed that in the long term they would be better off
  • Boris Johnson’s calculation to back Leave in the hope of furthering his political career
  • Michael Gove’s dramatic announcement to enter the Conservative Party leadership race… thus scuppering Boris Johnson to the benefit of Teresa May
  • Nicola Sturgeon edging towards another Independence Referendum for Scotland
  • Labour Party shadow ministers resigning en masse in the hope of forcing Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation

Some of these—the Scottish aspect in particular—seem to be driven by rational actors.  But others do not.  I suspect that the Article 50 decision falls into this category:  it may be economically and politically rational for our next Prime Minister to simply defer the decision indefinitely.  And we’ll be telling ourselves that right up until the moment when, like the Wednesday Executioner, she makes the declaration anyway.

David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum in the first place was influenced by short term political expediency.  The Article 50 decision will be influenced by similar considerations.  Legal analyses, and calculations over what yields the strongest hand for negotiators can perhaps delay the decision. But it will be made when the profoundly irrational political situation offers some kind of short term gain to the Prime Minister.

1 thought on “Article 50 Will Be Triggered When Illogic Dictates”

  1. Lord and Lady MacGove rules apply here I think: “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well / It were done quickly”. There’s a body of opinion that probably thinks the post vote crash proved more survivable than expected and so will two years of grim negotiations and two more of creeping recovery up to an election in 2020. And I think the Brexiteers will want the chance to prove they were on the right side of history. They have nothing to lose and it’s easily done with a smooth transfer of power to an new PM and no early general election. Watch for an announcement that Art 50 will be implemented on Jan 1, 2017. My guess.

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