The way that the EU referendum campaigns – both for and against British membership of the bloc – have been handled has been redolent of game playing. As an academic who studies game theory, a number of parallels are evident. And, from the displays of nastiness on both sides of the campaign, it is clear that Britain needs to forge a more productive path forward in its relationship with the EU – whether it remains or leaves. My work on a new type of game theory may offer some insights.
From the moment David Cameron went to Brussels in February 2016 to secure better terms for Britain’s EU membership, the games began. Having already promised a referendum on Britain’s EU membership, he was no doubt hoping to use the shadow of a Brexit vote as a bargaining chip in his negotiations.
Essentially, he argued that if the other leaders agreed to the UK’s demands for concessions, he would be able to convince the British public to vote to remain in the EU. If the UK didn’t get what it wanted, the implication was that Britain would exit and weaken the EU for the remaining nations. The looming referendum was designed to increase the UK’s bargaining power, but it fell flat and the other leaders called his bluff, making limited concessions.