There is an idiom that was popularised in USA by Mark Twain, who attributed it to the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” There is now a fourth kind, a Theresa May lie.

Theresa May finished her so-called Brexit plan speech by saying that ‘the government has 65 million people willing it to make a success of Brexit’. She not only totally dismissed opposing views of just under half of the referendum turnout but of people who are part of that population but for one reason or another had no say in what she implied in a single sentence. I therefore wish to use some simple demography to show that she is a liar. As a social scientist I was obliged to learn ‘quantitative methods’. That means that what I was taught was how to use particular means of measuring an almost infinite number of things about human beings by use of different means, all of which are numerical. Demography and simple statistics are very easily understood by most people therefore they are the main means by which I intend to expose her untruth.

Just the facts

I shall begin by looking at the UK as a whole. A census of the entire UK is held every 10 years, therefore the base for much of the data presented is from March 2011 when that was last carried out.  Otherwise more recent estimates will be used. Thus, whilst the 2011 census put the population at 63,181,775, a July 2016 estimate puts it at 64,430,428. Broken down by irregular blocks for the 2016 estimates that classify people in terms of childhood, youth, prime age, middle age and elderly we have:

0-14 years:                 17.44% (males 5,761,311/females 5,476,649)

15-24 years:                12.15% (males 3,997,150/females 3,830,268)

25-54 years:                40.74% (males 13,367,242/females 12,883,674)

55-64 years:                11.77% (males 3,760,020/females 3,820,525)

65 years and over:      17.9% (males 5,170,542/females 6,363,047)

Broken down by countries in the UK the precise numbers are from the 2011 census, they are also expressed as percentages, thus:

England                      53,012,456                 83.9%

Scotland                     5,295,000                  8.4%

Wales                          3,063,456                  4.8%

Northern Ireland        1,810,863                  2.9%

United Kingdom        63,181,775                 100%

Comparison of the 2011 census and 2016 estimated shows an estimated growth of 1,248,653 persons or about 2% over five years.

A population pyramid for the UK as at the 2011 census gives us a slightly simpler view of age distribution.

Around 3.2 million people living in the UK in 2015 at the time of the most recently available reasonably accurate statistics were citizens of another EU country. That is to say, about 5% of the UK population. Around 2.3 million nationals of other EU countries were in work, or about 7% of employees in the UK at that time. Statistics showed that EU nationals of working age are more likely to be in work than UK nationals and non-EU citizens. About 80% of working age EU citizens in the UK are in work, compared to around 75% of UK nationals and 62% of people from outside the EU. Moreover, figures for 2015 suggest that at the time about 1.2 million people born in the UK lived in other EU countries although that may be well above 2 million in reality.

Her 65 million, an overestimate by half a million, must naturally exclude the over three million people, thus reducing the figure to less than 61.3 million. Then we must take age into account. This table breaks the population down by five year bands at the time of the 2011 census:

Age structure for each five year band
Ages attained
Population  % of total
0–4 3,914,000 6.2
5–9 3,517,000 5.6
10–14 3,670,000 5.8
15–19 3,997,000 6.3
20–24 4,297,000 6.8
25–29 4,307,000 6.8
30–34 4,126,000 6.5
35–39 4,194,000 6.6
40–44 4,626,000 7.3
45–49 4,643,000 7.3
50–54 4,095,000 6.5
55–59 3,614,000 5.7
60–64 3,807,000 6.0
65–69 3,017,000 4.8
70–74 2,463,000 3.9
75–79 2,006,000 3.2
80–84 1,496,000 2.4
85–89 918,000 1.5
90+ 476,000 0.8

Around 20 million of the total thus far was under the age of electoral franchise, so somewhere in the range of 41.25 million are eligible to vote. Incidentally, of the unjustly excluded there were then 18,1,534,192 16 and 17 year olds who represented 2.9% of the over age 16 population. More than sufficient for remain to have won with majority support by this group.


Those 15 years

An estimated 5.5 million citizens live outside the UK, many of them are entitled to vote although there is a large number excluded by the ‘15 year rule’ that at present disqualifies them from voting if they have been permanently outside the UK and electorally unregistered for over 15 years. The promise that their vote would be restored was in the 2014 election manifesto of the Conservative party. It included a commitment to allow those people to vote before, thus in, an EU referendum. At present it is said that vote will be returned by 2020. Theoretically the 5.5 million should be added to the 64.5 million making 71,000,000 to again point out May’s lie. However, she appeared to mean the resident population are now willing the government to make a success of Brexit.

That is an interesting group who were possibly excluded quite deliberately, despite the fact that their interests in the future of the UK should take priority over that of older people. Survey data allow us to go further, in this case getting an idea about a possible turnout there may have been. ICM interviewed 1,852 people after the Scottish referendum, of which 112 were 16 and 17 year olds since they were able to take part in that vote.  It is a small sample, highly susceptible to being skewed, but it at the very least gives an indication of how turnout varied across age groups. The findings are summarised here and show: 16-17, 75%; 18-24, 54%;  25-34, 72%  and total electorate, 84.5%. On the one hand, turnout among 16 and 17 year olds was about 10 percentage points below overall turnout, on the other they were more likely to vote than those aged 18 to 34. Studies in Austria and Norway showed comparable findings. In that sense, which no doubt government advisers would have known, younger voters may have held the balance, in this case may have swung the result the opposite way by a small margin.

Moving on, although there are no statistics to show exactly who was excluded or unable to vote though they were registered for a multitude of reasons we can naturally list about 85,000 people in prison who are included in the census of whom roughly 10,500 are foreigners, so would not have voting rights, thus 74,500. Another group is around 500 criminally insane and serious mentally disturbed people. There are many more people including the elderly who are senile or too ill to be registered, people so disabled or handicapped who lack the intellectual skills to be able to vote and others who may  simply have been ill at the time of the referendum. There were also people outside the UK who had registered but whose voting forms arrived too late to return, after the vote or never arrived, some may also have been lost in the post. Whatever the case may be, 46,500,001 were registered to vote of whom 33,577,342 turned out, 72.21% of registered voters. 17, 410, 742, or 51,89%, of the turnout voted to leave and 16,141,241, or 48.11%, to remain in the EU. 25,359 votes were invalid or blank. 12,897,300 of all registered voters failed by one means or another to vote. The excluded young voters and postal voters, particularly those living in EU countries could very easily have tipped the balance the other way, no account has been made for that. The exclusion of EU citizens but the inclusion of ‘commonwealth’ nationals is irrational and unfair by any truly democratic standard, although ironically Irish nationals who are also EU citizens could vote. Whatever the reasons are, including indifference, age, infirmity, imprisonment, exclusion because of nationality, failing to receive forms or whatever other reasons, 47,089,258 of the entire permanently resident population of the UK did not express their wish to leave the EU.

The unanimity of the population wishing to see a successful Brexit is an untruth, a blatant lie. Theresa May should have immediately lost the confidence of the entire House of Commons with that deliberate deceit alone, yet nobody challenged her. Hers is thus far an autocratic premiership where she appears to go unchallenged wherever she wants to go in her political direction and where she intends to steer the UK. However, lying becomes a habit and when it is as fundamental as numbers that do not tally with simple statistics then she deserves to caught. Many people will now expect more and greater lies, however if those are directed at her opposite numbers throughout the EU, she may be the undoing of the nation she should be representing. On her conscience be it.