UK votes for Brexit in historic referendum

'Europe'/ CC
Photograph: 'Europe'/ CC

TheUnited Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union in a referendum that will change the course of British history. The final results are as follows: 51.89% for the Leave camp and 48.11% for Remain; the margin by which Leave won was over 1 million votes. This vote officially ends a 43-year long relationship between the UK and EU. The decision came as a shock for many and has highlighted the deep divisions among the British people. A strong shift in voting patterns is very apparent and the consequences of these results are still very unclear. The pound has fallen to rates not seen since 1985 and the stock markets are also suffering a big blow. Leaders from other countries have also expressed their shock and worry about what happens next and what this could mean for other European countries. As if this situation was not impacting enough, British prime minister David Cameron has decided to resign and make way for “fresh leadership.”

The UK first joined the European Community in 1973 under then Conservative prime minister Edward Heath. Britain first wanted to get into European Economic Community (EEC) in 1961, mostly for economic reasons. The UK wanted to make a stronger alliance with Germany and France because their economies were experiencing strong growth at the time. However, the British entrance was vetoed twice by French President Charles de Gaulle. The UK was finally able to enter after de Gaulle left office. The decision to join the EEC was not welcomed by all Britons and that is why it was put to a referendum in 1975. Those voting to remain in the EEC won the referendum with more than 67% of the vote. However, Britain’s relationship with the EEC and later the EU has always been a bit rocky and yesterday these differences finally reached their peak.

But how did this happen? The British people had been urged to vote remain by a variety of bodies ranging from their own government, the opposition, Barack Obama, the IMF, NATO, the Bank of England, and many more. Business leaders were especially adamant to promote the Remain camp; over 1,000 chief executives signed a letter backing a Remain vote. David Cameron had even gone to Brussels in February to negotiate a deal to give Britain a special status in the EU. The biggest issue was about migrants coming to the UK and then claiming benefits; a big reason why so may Britons voted to leave. Cameron was quite pleased with what he had achieved, but, as we can see, it wasn’t enough to convince the electorate to vote Remain. Many believe the strongest motivation for why so many people voted to leave the EU was related to the migrant issue. Many Britons felt that their national identity was being threatened and that the massive influx of migrants was putting unnecessary strain on schools, health care, and housing. Even the Leave campaign’s slogan “Take Control” played into the popular feeling among many Britons who feel that the government is failing to regulate the inflow of migrants.

So who actually voted Leave? There was strong support to leave the EU across the whole of England and Wales with some surprising cities like Birmingham having voted to leave. Those living on the East Coast of England were the most likely to vote Leave. The total turnout was very high, at 72.2% which is about 33.6 million people. The bulk of support for the Leave campaign came from older voters as young people mostly voted for Remain. One factor that may have hurt the Remain campaign was the fact that the turnout in areas with high proportions of young residents was relatively low. There was also a relationship between the level of education and how people voted. The more educated the voter, the more likely they were to vote Remain. Levels of education also overlapped with class as those people that fit the description of semi-skilled & unskilled manual occupations, unemployed and lowest grade occupations, tended to vote Leave.

Photograph: Leave / CC
Photograph: Leave / CC

The Brexit vote not only shocked half the British population but it also severely impacted the stock markets. The financial markets expected the UK to vote Remain, so it was a big blow to stocks when the Leave campaign seemed to have won the race. Some say that it could be the fifth-biggest drop in UK stock market history. Trading even stopped in Tokyo. The Dax in Frankfurt suffered its worst day since 2008. The pound also fell more than 8% against the dollar and 6% against the euro. At one moment, the pound plunged to $1.3224, its lowest rate since 1985. The DOW lost an immense 610 points, the Nikkei fell nearly 8%, and Nasdaq declined by 3.70%. Some compare this situation to Black Wednesday; the day when the pound plummetted in 1992 after the UK chose to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). The possibility is definitely there that big businesses will want to shift from the UK to other European countries because of the difficulties they will have to face now that the UK voted to leave the EU. Countless jobs could be at risk as JP Morgan, Airbus, Toyota, and Ford all made it very clear that they would review their investments in the UK after the Brexit result. The City of London will especially suffer as they employ over 360,000 financial services.

Britons and businesses are not the only ones unhappy with these results. German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her disappointment with the Brexit result by stating that “Today is a blow for Europe. It is a blow for the process of European unification.” French president François Hollande said he would make sure France remains strong and takes on the responsibility to lead other European countries and ensure they remain in the EU in order to guarantee the future of the continent. President Obama also spoke about the results and assured that Brexit would not affect the special relationship between the US and the UK and that the EU will remain an indispensable partner. Previous British prime minister Tony Blair also spoke out about his views on this historic development. He said that he was very concerned about the consequences of this vote for the UK and the rest of the world and called for stabilisation and reunification of the UK. He also spoke about how he felt that the Labour Party didn’t sufficiently mobilise their vote and didn’t make the public understand that this wasn’t a protest vote against the current government. Many believe that the reason why Leave won was because the public was rebelling against the government for the way they have been handling issues the past six years. 

However, there were some politicians who were actually pleased with the results. Dutch politician Geert Wilders Tweeted he was pleased with the results in the UK and wants the Netherlands to have their own referendum on their EU membership. French buy tetracycline in uk politician Marine Le Pen also congratulated the UK for their “victory” and expressed her desire for a similar referendum in France. Le Pen has a good chance of reaching far in France’s general elections next year and has promised to hold an in-out referendum within six months if she becomes president and said she will campaign for a French exit or “Frexit.” Greece’s Golden Dawn has also expressed their satisfaction with the UK’s Brexit decision. Golden Dawn is known as Europe’s most violent rightwing party; they predict that this result will empower “nationalist forces” across Europe. Italy’s Five Star Movement has also congratulated the Leave camp for their victory. Donald Trump also expressed his opinions on the referendum results. He said that more and more people are trying to take their country, borders, and monetary back. He believes that more European countries will follow Britain’s example and start campaigning for independence.

Even though there were more votes to leave the EU, not every country in the UK voted that way. Scotland voted overwhelmingly in favour to remain in the EU (62% remain, 38% leave) and they made it very clear that they do not want to leave the EU. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that it is “democratically unacceptable” to take Scotland out of the EU against their will. She also said that it is highly likely that Scotland will hold another referendum for independence. The Scottish Cabinet will meet on Saturday to further discuss these recent developments. Furthermore, nationalist leaders in Northern Ireland are calling for a poll on leaving the UK and uniting with Ireland. Most voters in Northern Ireland (55.8%) wanted to remain in the EU and are not satisfied with the choices the people of England and Wales have made. Sinn Féin will soon be having meetings with the Irish government, the European institutions, and Scotland to talk about what steps should be taken next. The most recent development is that of a petition to make London an independent state, as most (59.9%)people in London voted to remain in the EU. Even though this is a new development, the petition has already been signed by more than 27,000 people. However, only time will tell how the Remain voters will react and if they will take any decisive action relating to this Brexit result.

One person who was happier (and more surprised) than most, was UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage. He declared the results a “victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people.” Farage was previously part of the Conservative Party but left in 1992 when Britain signed the Maastricht Treaty which led to the creation of the EU and the euro. He has often been called a racist person who dislikes immigrants and who’s views are usually ridiculed and not taken seriously. However, despite how many people dislike him, he finally got what he has been wanting for so many years. He now knows that millions of Britons support his views on the EU and that they too want the independence for the UK. “We have done it without having to fight, we have done it without a bullet being fired. Dare to dream that the dawn is breaking on an independent nation”, he said in his victory speech.

The person who was perhaps the most affected directly after the result was the British prime minister himself. David Cameron had been campaigning to stay in the EU and was hoping that his message combined with the support of countless credible sources would be enough to convince the British public to vote to remain in the EU. But it wasn’t. He had previously said that if Britain would vote to leave, he would not resign. As the voting was going on yesterday, many MPs were busy writing letters to urge the PM not to resign. More than 80 Eurosceptic Conservative MPs tried to convince their leader not to leave in order to try and maintain party unity and prevent political chaos from breaking out after the Brexit result. However, Cameron felt that the right thing to do would be to resign. He has served the British people for six years and was even able to win a majority for his party in last year’s general elections. This “European Curse” has plagued previous Conservative prime ministers too, and the issue seems to have claimed its latest victim. One of the most important reasons why Margaret Thatcher had to resign in 1990 was because of her increasingly anti-European rhetoric and stance. Her successor, John Major, resigned due to the deep party divisions relating to the Maastricht Treaty on European integration. Now David Cameron has suffered a similar fate, finding himself in a situation where he too had to resign due to issues relating to Europe.

The prime minister gave a speech the morning following the results. He said that the will of the British people should be respected and that it is “an instruction that must be delivered.” He also took the opportunity to reassure markets and investors that Britain’s economy is fundamentally strong and he also reassured British people living in the EU and Europeans living in Britain that there would be no immediate change in their circumstances. Because the country has chosen to go into a different direction than the one the PM wanted, he believes the UK needs “fresh leadership” to take it in this direction. David Cameron also explained how a negotiation with the EU will need to begin under a new prime minister and that the new prime minister should make the decision about when to trigger Article 50 and start the formal and legal process of leaving the EU. He will be prime minister until October.

There is no doubt that the choice the British people made to leave the EU will have serious consequences in the near and far future. The United Kingdom itself might end up not being very united at all if Scotland and Northern Ireland break away. The possibility also exists that the UK was the first domino to fall in a series of European countries that might ultimately end up making the EU fall apart. The economic implications of Brexit are also not yet clear. Some believe the UK’s economy will be far better off now that they’re out, yet others believe the complete opposite. Officially separating from the EU is estimated to take at least two years and David Cameron already made it clear that he would not be the one to start the separation process but that the next prime minister will have to make those decisions. It is too early now to say what consequences Brexit will have for the UK, the EU, and the rest of the world. All we can be sure of is that these results have changed the course of British history.

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Gabriela Bernal 23 Articles
Gabriela Bernal is interested in politics, international relations, and terrorism. She is pursuing a degree in political science and plans on pursuing her postgraduate studies in the U.K. She likes to write, read, play tennis, travel, and learn new languages.

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