The world woke up on Friday to find out that the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union (EU). As the markets tumbled overnight, with the pound plunging to record lows, uncertainty has taken over across the UK as British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he will step down in the fall.
Polling stations opened on 23 June at 7 AM BST and closed at 10 PM BST. While polls indicated shortly after voting ended that the Remain camp was going to be the likely winner, overnight, as the vote count came in, it increasingly became apparent that Brits had voted to leave the EU. While Prime Minister David Cameron had urged the country to vote Remain, he was ultimately defeated by 52% to 48% despite London, Scotland and Northern Ireland all backing staying in. The referendum turnout was 71.8% – with more than 30 million people voting. It was the highest turnout at a UK-wide vote since 1992. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has hailed Thursday’s vote as the UK’s “independence day.” Mr Farage, who has over the past twenty years campaigned for Britain to leave the EU, told cheering supporters that “this will be a victory for ordinary people, for decent people.” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has stated that the EU vote “makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union” after all 32 local authority areas returned majorities for Remain. It is thought that Scotland may seek another referendum on separation from the UK.
The impact of the vote however has already been felt across the UK and on international markets, with the pound falling to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985 as the markets reacted to the results. Bank of England governor Mark Carney has stated that UK banks’ “substantial capital and huge liquidity” allowed them to continue to lend to businesses and households, adding that the Bank of England is ready to provide an extra £250 billion of support.
PM to Step Aside
Despite MP’s signing a letter overnight urging Prime Minister David Cameron to stay on whatever the result, on Friday morning the Prime Minister announced that he will step down by October after the UK voted to leave the EU. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, he disclosed that he would attempt to “steady the ship” over the coming weeks and months, noting however that “fresh leadership” was needed. Flanked by his wife Samantha, Prime Minister Cameron indicated that he had informed the Queen of his decision to remain in place for the short term and then hand over to a new prime minister by the time of the Conservative conference in October. He has indicated that it will be for the new prime minister to carry out negotiations with the EU and invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would effectively give the UK two years in order to negotiate its withdrawal.
Process to Leave the EU
While Britain is set to be the first country to leave the EU since its formation, the Leave vote does not immediately mean that Britain ceases to be a member of the 28-nation bloc.
That process could take a minimum of two years, with Leave campaigners suggesting during the referendum campaign that it should not be completed until 2020 – the date of the next scheduled general election. Once Article 50 has been triggered, a country cannot re-join the EU without the consent of all member states. Prime Minister Cameron previously indicated that he would trigger Article 50 as soon as possible after a Leave vote. However Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who led the campaign to get Britain out of the EU, have disclosed that the prime minister should not rush into it. They have also indicated that they want to make immediate changes before the UK actually leaves the EU, such as curbing the power of EU judges and limiting the free movement of workers, potentially in breach of the UK’s treaty obligations. The government will also have to negotiate its future trading relationship with the EU and fix trade agreements with non-EU countries.
In Whitehall and Westminster, there will now begin the massive task of unstitching the UK from more than 40 years of EU law, deciding which directives and regulations to keep, amend or ditch.
EU Leaders Call for Stability and Solidarity in Wake of Vote
In the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, shocked EU leaders have called for stability and solidary but also for change and reform. While President of the European Council Donald Tusk has stated that the remaining 27 members are determined to stay united, leaders like Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi have stated that the EU had to change and become “more human and more just.”
The European parliament has called for a special session for Tuesday 28 June to assess the vote, while foreign ministers of the six founding nations of the EU – Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg – will met in Berlin on 25 June. Some leaders of EU member states, such as France’s Francois Hollande, held their own crisis talks on Friday. European parliament president Martin Schulz, president of the European Council Donald Tusk, European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also went into emergency talks.
During the month of March authorities in Northern Ireland has been on higher alert than normal, concerned that the 100th anniversary of the Irish uprising against British rule would cause numerous attacks throughout the country. Security has been tightened and police presence beefed up in many places. Authorities are concerned that splinter groups from what was once the Irish Republican Army will target police, prison officers and soldiers. Concerns were particularly raised after a car bomb incident early in March led to the death of 52-year old prison officer Adrian Ismay. Soon after the car bomb attack the Police Service of Northern Ireland deemed the threat from dissidents to be severe, meaning that an attack is highly possible. The New Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility for the bombing incident, which was apparently targeting officer Ismay for his part in training officers working at the Maghaberry Prison where several republican revolutionaries are currently being held. In the weeks leading up to, and following, the attack of prison officer Ismay police patrols were increased across the country.
To understand the current situation perhaps it is helpful to consider the recent history. A 28-year long conflict known as “The Troubles,” in which nearly 3,600 people died, came to an end with the Good Friday accord in April of 1998, following a truce reached in 1997. The conflict was between pro-British Protestants and Catholics who favoured reclaiming Northern Ireland from British control and unifying it with the republic of Ireland. With the peace agreement the IRA split up, which led to the creation of fractions, some of them opposing the Good Friday agreement and considering it a betrayal of the revolutionary spirit. This historic conflict seems to be causing feeling of resentment still today. The New IRA is the latest iteration of the Provisional IRA (PIRA). With the Good Friday accord a disarming of the PIRA was planned. A significant portion of the PIRA disagreed with the disarmament, which has led to yet more splinter groups attempting to take the IRA mantle. One of the splinter groups is the Continuity IRA (CIRA) which broke off in 1986, and is responsible for a high-profile shooting at a boxing weigh-in in Dublin on 5 February of this year.
It is no wonder some have raised concerns about a potential increase in violence as it is still fresh in memory of many, that when the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising took place in 1966, Northern Ireland saw an increase in violence which only three years later resulted in the start of “the Troubles”. According to one of the former PIRA prisoners a new all-Ireland network has been formed for republicans, which promotes a unification and regard the Good Friday accord as a sell-out. The continued presence of the republican revolutionary spirit was evident on Easter Eve, 26 March, when a parade in a Northern Ireland town was headed by masked men, dressed in paramilitary uniforms, reportedly linked to the CIRA. The CIRA is typically one of the fractions that opposes the political settlement in Northern Ireland, in which political party Sinn Féin shares power with unionists. As Easter weekend has come to an end we are left to wonder if the authorities of Northern Ireland can relax their tightened security and return to a threat alert closer to normality, or if the rest of the year 2016 will indeed be characterised by worry and concerns about more upcoming attacks targeting people of the authorities in protest or to mark the centennial of the rising.