The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. The official result has been announced at the voting headquarters in Manchester, giving the “Leave” vote 17.4 million votes, to 16.1 million for “Remain”.
Earlier it was clear that the “Leave” campaign had secured an unassailable lead, with 52 percent of the vote compared to 48 percent for the “Remain” camp.
David Cameron has said he will step down as British prime minister.
The pound dropped to a 30-year low as markets reacted to the surprise result.
Voter turnout has been the highest in a nationwide UK election since 1997 – 72 percent – yet it is ‘Leave’ backers who turned out in higher numbers than ‘Remain’ supporters.
The result leaves the United Kingdom profoundly divided. London, Scotland, Northern Ireland and some major English cities voted in favour of remaining in the EU. However vast swathes of England and Wales voted decisively to leave.
Major cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle backed EU membership but this was outweighed by overwhelming support in rural areas and smaller English and Welsh towns for a “Brexit”, or leave vote. Birmingham, the country’s second city, voted by a narrow margin in favour of leaving the EU.
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party hailed the result as “a victory for ordinary people”. He has campaigned for Britain to leave the EU for more than 20 years, and was a founder of the party whose main goal has now been realised.
Farage called on Prime Minister David Cameron, who backed continued membership of the EU, to quit – and for a “Brexit” government to handle negotiations with Brussels over the UK’s departure.
However senior Conservative figures from the “Leave” campaign have written to the prime minister saying they expect him to stay on for the time being.
Cameron said before the referendum that in the event of a “Leave” result he would invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets out a two year period for a country to negotiate its withdrawal.
Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, said the vote showed Scots wanted to remain in the EU, hinting at a possible breakup of the UK.
Former Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond said the party was likely to call for a new referendum on independence from Britain. “The sensible thing for Scotland to do would never be to leave the European Union,” he said.
Scotland held its own referendum on independence from the UK in September 2014, with the result being negative. However in last year’s general election Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party won a landslide in Scotland, sending 56 out of 59 Scottish MPs to Westminster.
The European continent has been waking up to the surprise result. The EU’s chief concerns over Britain’s departure are political but losing its second-largest economy will have a huge economic impact as well.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said he expected negotiations over Britain’s departure from the European Union to begin quickly. “The United Kingdom has decided to go its own way. I think the economic data show this morning that it will be a very difficult way,” he said.
The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Brexit vote must be the stimulus for more reform in Europe.
Right wing parties across the EU seized on the results with Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen calling for referendums in Netherlands and France.
Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, said “the EU is failing, the EU is dying”, indicating that he now wished to see the European Union unravel and for independent, sovereign nation states to trade freely with each other as “friends”.
POLITICO Europe (@POLITICOEurope) June 24, 2016