Brexit: the power of data predictions

As the United Kingdom’s withdrawal agreement was supported by an overwhelming 91% of European parliamentarians, the UK will formally leave the European Union as the clock strikes midnight on the 31st of January.

For the past 10 years, VoteWatch has kept the record of how the EU governments make decisions in Brussels. As we indicated on other occasions, an expert look at the data can help you understand the trends and forecast the political future.

The graph below shows the proportion of times 3 selected governments were in majority in the Council since 2009. As a reminder, the Lisbon Treaty, which expanded the use of qualified majority, entered into force at the end of 2009. The start of this period also coincides with the coming to power of the Conservative Party in the UK (while the Labour Party was in power, the British government had an average rate of disagreement with decisions in the Council of only 2.5%, as shown in our previous report).

From 2010, the convergence of the above two events, catalysed by the push ahead for further integration by the continental Europeans, resulted in an increasing divergence between London and the rest, as shown by the graph below.

We chose Germany and Poland as a benchmarks, since these are two other countries that oppose the majority more often than the average, but whose degree of opposition to the position of the majority has remained more constant over the years since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force (below 10%). Nevertheless,  also in these cases, we can see the impact of governmental changes (e.g. Germany becoming more aligned with the other Member States after 2013). As regards the UK, the trend of increasing misalignment is much more pronounced, mirroring the developments in the UK (e.g. the promise of the referendum by David Cameron and then the actual event). Eventually, the slope of British divergence steepened dramatically during the government of Boris Johnson in 2019.

The following graph is based on all public votes taking place in the EU Council since 2009 (almost 1 200 votes). This covers every kind of legislation being decided at the EU level.  

While less evident, signs of emerging substantial divergence were already spotted with the help of political data analysis between 2004 and 2009 (6th EP parliamentary term). The graph below shows the degree of alignment of key national party delegations with the position of the majority inside the European People’s Party, making evident the divergence in views between the British and their colleagues. Sure enough, in 2009 the Tory delegation did formally break away from EPP, in a signal of what was to happen also at the country level, following the rise to power of the Conservatives.

Similarly, the decreasing level of alignment of Flemish N-VA with their Greens/EFA group during the period 2009-2014 ultimately led to their ‘divorce’, as the Flemish joined ECR in 2014.  The trend was quite clear as the Flemish agreed with their group 78% of time during the first half of that legislative term (2009 – 2011), whereas they agreed with Greens/EFA only 66% of time during the second half of term (2012-2014).

We learned how to use the data to make predictions: now what?

Learning from these past examples can help us predict the likelihood of similar events occurring in the future. To do so, we need to look at the current trends. A good place to start this is our very recent report which looks at the current trends in EU politics. Interestingly,  our report points out that the level of disagreement of some national parties with their own groups is reaching the same critical level as observed in the case of the British Tories and Flemish N-VA,  meaning that we should expect further changes in the composition of political groups during the current legislative term.