Brexit means Brexit – and after 2 and a half years of hearing this hollow soundbite, we’re finally going to see what it actually means next week. You would need a crystal ball to accurately predict the final outcome of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement and what will follow on from there, but the next best thing is to look at the bookmakers, that very British institution. With some rare exceptions – notably the result of the Brexit Referendum 2016 and Trump’s elections - they are always more reliable than the polls, which have taken a spectacular battering in recent events. A briefing with William Hill’s media liaison at the Foreign Press Association has revealed that they are expecting quite a high volume of bets – easily over £1million - for next week’s “meaningful vote” in the House of Commons. Political betting is normally an infinitesimal percentage of sports betting, and punters who love sports and go to betting shops are rarely the same people who will place a bet on who the next Prime Minister will be, or whether the Withdrawal Agreement will go through at the first attempt – or, in fact, ever. Normally, these political punters are city dwellers, with a higher education level and more information. They can also be, quite intriguingly, political insiders. William Hill has revealed that there is a small group of “well-informed regulars” who regularly get things right (in politics). And while a top league footballer is banned from placing bets on football, it is curious that a politician is not banned from doing so in politics. It is doubtful, however, whether Theresa May would run off to the bookies to bet on her potential demise. In any case, the 2016 referendum proved itself a “bloodbath” for many big spenders who bet on the UK to Remain in the EU, and lost everything. The bookies made huge losses too. The industry as a whole, well-meaning but far too London-centric, failed spectacularly to read the political landscape and took a massive hit of around £3million overall. This time round, should there be a second referendum, or a new general election, or even a revocation of Article 50 (all still potential scenarios, at only 70 odd days from the deadline of 29th March) William Hill have decided to protect themselves by creating odds in 6 different areas and looking at numbers of overall bets rather than size of individual ones. In their infinite wisdom, they see little chance of the Withdrawal Agreement going through (87.5% to fail next Tuesday, 15 January) and so far, 98% of bets received echo that feeling. The majority the PM needs to get the deal through Parliament is 320 votes, but a massive 81% of bets received so far are doubtful she will even get to 237 (and therefore fail). The bookies have also little confidence that the Withdrawal agreement will go through before the end of March 2019 (73% chance it will fail to do so) which suggests the UK might indeed crash out with no deal. And what about a Second Referendum, renamed a People’s Vote by the clever campaign behind it? Although this probability has increased exponentially in the last month (it was 8% in December), it still hasn’t gone beyond 42% (so 58% chance of it not happening by 2020). And what’s the likelihood of Theresa May resigning in this turmoil? Little chance of that, says William Hill, describing her as having “a hide like a rhinoceros” and putting the odds at 16/1 (5.9% chance of her quitting). Should she eventually go, though, who might be the next prime minister? A general election might usher in Jeremy Corbyn (the first name on the list at 4/1, or 20% chance) followed by Boris Johnson and David Lidington (May’s little-known right-hand man) both at 5/1 (or 16.7%). The next woman appears lower down on the list at 20/1 (4.8% chance) and it’s Amber Rudd tied with Penny Mordaunt. History is in the making next week and, in typical British fashion, many will take a punt at it.
Italian journalist in London and Director of the Foreign Press Association
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