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.