Britain Votes on EU Membership in Referendum

Read our live coverage of referendum night in the United Kingdom for analysis, commentary and results.

View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011
View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011 (Ben Sutherland)
  • Britain held a referendum on its European Union membership on Thursday. Voters were asked if they wanted to “leave” or “remain”.
  • With turnout at 72 percent, or 33.5 million, a majority of 52 percent voted to leave. The difference with the remain side was 1.3 million votes.
  • The Atlantic Sentinel had endorsed a “remain” vote, arguing that as long as Britain stayed in, the EU would never develop into an illiberal federation that neither many Britons nor many continental Europeans want.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 23, 20164:40 PM

Janan Ganesh, one of the sharpest observers of British politics, suspects that the remain side will prevail today. He writes in the Financial Times that the median voter understands the referendum boils down to the question, “Do you dislike immigration more than you like economic calm?”

For millions, the answer is yes. “But this is also a country,” writes Ganesh, “where, according to ComRes, 68 percent of voters would not forfeit a single pound of their income to cut immigration.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 23, 20164:44 PM

Alex Massie, another political commentator, worries about the day after. He writes in The Spectator that the leave side has exaggerated what’s at stake.

If this really is about democracy and freedom, then we are asked to believe that none of the EU’s 28 member states are free countries. Each must exist in a state of bondage, held captive by Quisling elites all too happy to enjoy first-class seats on the gravy train of well-remunerated supplication. Party like we’re back in the EUSSR, everyone. Come on, enough with this.

The trouble is that a good number of Euroskeptics actually believe this. As we reported the other day, half the voters for “leave” are convinced the referendum will be rigged by elites.

When you encourage people to think like that, “to cast politics in terms of patriotism and treachery,” Massie wonders how the losing side can possibly accept the outcome of the referendum. “How does politics return to ‘normal’ when the new normal has been poisoned in this fashion?”

I don’t know if any of us has the answer to that.

David Downing David Downing June 23, 20165:33 PM

While there is still about four and half hours to go until polls close and perhaps another three hours until we begin to get any results, I wish to offer some predictions: Scotland and Northern Ireland will vote to remain; So will the major cities; Postindustrial areas such as those in Northern England and Wales will vote to leave, as may agricultural areas like Lincolnshire, which are the most effected by European immigration.

I hope that regardless of the outcome, we will see a similar effect to the aftermath of the Scottish referendum where civic participation, notably among young people, increased dramatically.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 23, 20166:14 PM

What happens if Britain leaves?

First, there would be meetings in Brussels this week and next to trigger Article 50, which begins a two-year divorce proceeding. British lawmakers would have to use that time to disentangle EU law from British law, a process that could prove especially disadvantageous to the devolved parts of the United Kingdom. And then it would be necessary to negotiate some form of market access — which the remaining member states might not be inclined to offer.

Click here to continue reading.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 23, 20167:33 PM

What if Britain stays in?

In the short term, I argue, the reaction from around the world would be one of relief. In the long term is where things get interesting.

David Cameron negotiated a semi-detached status for the United Kingdom that should be activated after a “remain” vote. It means Britain will be exempt from “ever-closer union,” which, in turn, could give way to a two- or multispeed Europe.

The countries in the eurozone, particularly France, Germany and Italy, want to integrate further. They believe the single currency requires full economic and fiscal union. Other countries outside the euro, like Denmark, Poland and Sweden, may not be interested. Britain’s new special status would give them something of a template to remain on the outside.

Click here to learn more about how Cameron’s negotiations helped pave the way for a multispeed Europe.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 23, 20167:59 PM

Another big question is how David Cameron will handle the fallout in his own party. There’s a good chance that a majority of Conservative Party voters will opt to leave while around half the parliamentary party favors an exit.

The conventional wisdom is that Cameron should be magnanimous with those who opposed him, particularly Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, in order to bring the party together.

Matthew d’Ancona disagrees. He argues in The Guardian that Cameron must be ruthless or risk a right-wing leadership challenge.

It is one thing to be a conciliator; quite another to be a pushover. No structure of authority can long survive if there are not clear consequences for transgressions.

David Downing David Downing June 23, 20168:35 PM

Via Twitter, some interesting predictions coming in on turnout. In parts of the county of Leicestershire (East Midlands), turnout could be record-breaking. In parts of Dorset (south coast), turnout could pass 80 percent.

While in Scotland, it has been reported on BBC Radio that turnout could be between 70 and 80 percent.

David Downing David Downing June 23, 20169:00 PM

There is now just under an hour to go until the polling stations shut and the counting begins.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 23, 20169:15 PM

Karl Sharro writes in The Atlantic about the referendum the way we tend to do about the Middle East.

He explains it all goes back to the Norman conquest. “The persistence of legends like Robin Hood and Ivanhoe, describing native Anglo-Saxon resistance to the Normans,” shows the scars never healed. Norman descendants want to stay in the EU; native Anglo-Saxons support an exit.

Given these intractable differences, the only solution is partition, argues Sharro, with one side in the EU and the other out.

The border between Leavia and Remania would run through London, which would be a demilitarized zone under UN administration, with peacekeepers along the border. Perhaps this or that area will be on the wrong side. But that’s the nature of colonial borders.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 23, 20169:46 PM

If turnout is as high as the predictions David reported suggest, it could mean that many young people and voters who normally stay home because they can live with the status quo showed up. That should favor the remain side.

Except Politico argues that a freak turnout like in the Scottish referendum, when 85 percent voted, could see a swing back to leave again, “because it points to working-class traditional non-voters being motivated to join in — one of the most anti-EU demographics.”

Joseph Shupac June 23, 20169:52 PM

That is a great, hilarious article Nick. I wonder what the British UEFA announcers will say if the leave vote wins. All of us here in Canada and the US who watch football (okay, soccerball) are watching British-commentated broadcasts of the tournament.

David Downing David Downing June 23, 20169:57 PM

More on turnout. A friend of mine at a count in Bury, Manchester, which for general elections is seen to be a swing seat, says that rumor there is that turnout is 75 percent or more.

Moving on to what we can expect and when it is believed that results from Gibralter and the Scilly Isles will be in by around midnight. However, as is normal, it is suspected that Sunderland in Northern England will be the first to declare.

Then around 1:30 we should get some idea of the way Belfast has voted. From this point on, there will be a trickles of results with odd flurries throughout the night.

By about 3:30, we should have a rough picture of the way the country has voted and whether its fate is in or out of Europe.

As breakfast rolls around at about 6 to 7 AM, the official result will be called.

David Downing David Downing June 23, 201610:00 PM

BBC election night, or rather I ought to say referendum night, with David Dimbleby has kicked off and the polls close in less than one minute. Stay tuned with us throughout the night.

David Downing David Downing June 23, 201610:13 PM

Nicky Morgan, who is the secretary of education and on the remain side, said on the BBC that turnout has been around 80 percent in her constituency and she is confident of a vote to stay.

Joseph Shupac June 23, 201610:18 PM

Geostrategist George Friedman argues that only an unlikely, decisive vote to remain will lessen the uncertainty the EU now faces.

David Downing David Downing June 23, 201610:20 PM

From Brussels, it is being said that the EU is seeing this referendum as a shot across the bow. No matter which way the vote goes, the EU must change.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 23, 201610:22 PM

One upside about high turnout: it’s going to be difficult for anyone to argue the referendum wasn’t representative.

A couple of weeks ago, Nigel Farage said that if the result was in the 52-48 range, “this would be unfinished business by a long way.” That’s going to be hard to maintain if something like 80 percent of Britons voted.

David Downing David Downing June 23, 201610:46 PM

Nigel Farage quoted as stating, “It looks like remain will edge it.”

David Downing David Downing June 23, 201611:07 PM

Ian Duncan Smith makes a good point on the BBC, one that I suspect we will hear more of.

In a general election, due to math and the existence of safe seats, not every vote is equal and indeed some do not count at all. However, in this referendum, every vote counts as there are no safe seats and no swing or marginal constituencies. Thus we will hear from parts of the country and society that we just do not hear from at general elections.

Daniel Berman Daniel Berman June 23, 201611:11 PM

While we wait for the first results, most discussion is focusing on a YouGov “exit poll” which shows a final result of 52-48 in favor of remain on a turnout of nearly 84 percent.

First of all, it is important to get out of the way the fact that this is not an exit poll, but a poll in which YouGov called back the sample from its final preelection poll to ask them how they voted on the day. So if the results in the earlier poll were off, so too will be the top line here.

Secondly, when that is taken into account, this is not an overwhelmingly good poll for the remain side. The final YouGov poll was a tie, but without undecided voters it was leave 45 percent (+1), remain 45 percent (+3). That would seem to indicate substantial momentum for remain, which when combined with expectations of “swingback” to the status quo probably makes the “exit poll” of remain 52 percent (+7) and Leave 4 percent %(+3) at best in line with midlevel expectations. At worst, it indicates that the remain momentum of earlier in the week did not accelerate.

Thirdly, when one steps back and realizes that 48 percent of voters on a 84 percent turnout voted for leave when its proponents had no plan for how it would be accomplished and when the international situation, with a Democratic president in the United States, was at its worst, there are worrying trends. Given the geographic concentration of remain support in London, it is quite likely that 48 percent of the nationwide vote would not only see the leave side carry a clear majority of Westminster constituencies but also ensure that the electorate in the next general election, likely to be at 64 rather than 84 percent, will be majority leave. That is a bit of Pyrrhic victory for a side that had the full backing of the state apparatus.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 201612:05 AM

In Newcastle upon Tyne, the votes split 50.7 percent for remain against 49.3 percent for leave. This is on a 68 percent turnout. The first result from mainland Britain. The leave campaign here doing better than the polls suggested.

Newcastle was meant to have been firmly within the remain camp as it has benefited from millions of pounds of EU money and has a relatively young, well-educated population.

Of course, this is only the first result, so we can’t make too many assumptions on this, but it will be interesting to see whether this trend of a closer vote than was expected comes through.

Daniel Berman Daniel Berman June 24, 201612:20 AM

The first major metropolitan area to declare, Newcastle is a heartland of working-class Labour. Every Westminster seat is held by Labour, which dominates local politics. Tonight remain won, but just barely: 50.7 to 49.3 percent.

To put that in perspective, it is useful to compare the numbers to the votes cast in the local authority elections at the same time as the 2015 general election. At the time, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens won a combined 70 percent support. In the local elections in May, the three parties — which all favor staying in the EU — got 74 percent. Yet the referendum outcome was almost exactly split.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 201612:38 AM

Sterling has fallen dramatically, by around 6 percent in the last few minutes, since the Sunderland results was declared. A graph that was tweeted shows the sterling fall as an almost vertical descent.

Depending on the next few results, it could fall even further as markets, which earlier today where expecting and anticipating a remain vote, begin to “correct”.

Daniel Berman Daniel Berman June 24, 201611:41 PM

The first declaration of the night has occurred in Gibraltar. Surrounded by Spain, with more than half the workforce made up of EU nationals and still claimed by Madrid, the outcome here was never in doubt. Nor was the fact that the margin for remain was likely to be massive.

That said, the sheer scale is likely to elicit comment. Gibraltar’s huge margin demonstrates just how polarized some of these results are likely to be. As divisive as the contest is for many British voters, for others the question is existential. The prospect of border controls with the EU promises catastrophe for Gibraltar and Northern Ireland and could potentially call into question their continued presence in the United Kingdom.

It also highlights how this process cannot simply be majoritarian. Any London government will have to reconcile such concerns. Even a situation where a majority of Northern Irish voters vote to leave, a testament to Protestant numerical dominance, London is not going to be in any position to engage in the sort of repression necessary to run roughshod over minority opposition.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20161:01 AM

Swindon, which has been described as the most average town in Britain, has voted to leave the EU. Could this be a trend emerging, of a stronger vote leave than was anticipated?

In Swindon, 55 percent backed leave and 45 percent remain.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20161:27 AM

Currently the leave campaign, after thirteen declarations, are in the lead by just under 13,000 votes.

What has to be remembered at this early stage is that some large cities, such as Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham, have yet to declare and if the vote plays out as I predicted earlier, these cities and their large populations will be more pro-remain than leave.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20161:45 AM

Interestingly, it seems to be coming through that a fair part of the leave vote is driven by anti-establishment, anti-London sentiment. This shouldn’t be too surprising. When you look at the remain campaign, it comprises the three major parties and most big businesses and corporations.

Daniel Berman Daniel Berman June 24, 201612:49 AM

We currently have two declarations in Scotland. One is the Orkney Islands, the other is Clackmannanshire, a working-class, SNP/Labour swing area. It went remain tonight, 58 to 42 percent, but in 2012 85 percent of voters cast ballots for Labour, the SNP or Liberal Democrats.

The story is the same as in northern England, namely Labour voters splitting almost equally between leave and remain. And that is bad news for remain.

All eyes should now be on Wales. Do Welsh Labour voters behave like their economic compatriots in northern England? If so, remain will be in serious trouble.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20161:58 AM

So far most English regions have voted to leave and all Scottish regions have voted to remain. If this plays out fully, then it could result in the result of a a pro-Eu Scotland taken out of the EU by an anti-EU England.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20162:15 AM

It is now looking like Wales is leaning toward voting leave as a whole. According to the leader of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Nationalist Party, it is because people have taken this vote as a way to kick the establishment.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20162:24 AM

The first big result for London has come in. In Lambeth, a whopping 78 percent of voters chose remain.

London, of course, is expected to swing heavily to remain.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20162:26 AM

Glasgow, the first major Scottish city, has voted 67 percent to remain.

This seems to show the trend highlighted earlier, both that large cities are more in favor of remaining and that Scotland in general is more likely to vote to remain.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20162:37 AM

The vote seems to be be breaking down along various fault lines: Scotland is voting to stay in; Wales is voting to leave; London and other major cities are voting to stay in; Middle England is voting to leave.

Within England itself, it could be said that urbanites, sometimes portrayed as “Guardianistas” (a reference to the cosmopolitan views of the Guardian newspaper), will vote to stay in Europe while middle and rural England votes to leave.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20162:57 AM

Currently a sea of leave votes being put though as places as diverse as the Welsh Valleys, the Wyre Forest and Lincoln all vote to exit the European Union.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, it does seem to see as though the leave vote has been underestimated.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20163:03 AM

A possible donut taking place in London as Inner London votes to stay in the EU while Outer London looks like it is going to be voting to leave.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20163:08 AM

Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of tonight is the admission by Stephen Crabb that “People Don’t believe us.”

An astonishing admission perhaps of the state of British politics. While the Westminster bubble has been much talked about, such an admission by a serving member of cabinet might tomorrow jolt the conversation a new way.

Daniel Berman Daniel Berman June 24, 20162:12 AM

With 35 out of 382 authorities reporting, we have a fairly effective crossection of the country outside London such that we have a clear pattern.

In the north of England and Wales, as much as 45 percent of Labour’s 2015 vote is backing leave. In Scotland, the SNP vote is by and large abstaining, resulting both in a lower turnout and higher remain results, which on average are running about 6 percent ahead of the baselines in a 50-50 election. Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, the vote is breaking down along Catholic-Protestant lines with turnout among the latter higher than among the former.

The picture across the country then is one not just of a victory for the leave side but a fairly substantial one, perhaps as high as a 7-8 percent margin.

It is true London is out, but London suffered dreadful weather in which much of the public transportation system was shut down. Leaks have enormous remain margins, but also relatively low turnout. The former are less verifiable than the latter.

While unexpected things can happen, as Florida in 2000 showed, absent something truly out of left field it seems that the voters of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20163:23 AM

As we approach 3:30, the leave vote is ahead by around 204,000 votes.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20163:29 AM

In Northern Ireland, with only four areas left to declare, it would appear nationalist areas have been voting for remain and unionist areas have been voting to leave.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20163:48 AM

The remain side has lost in relatively large cities that it was expected to win. Places such as Coventry and Sheffield.

As the leave vote begins to head toward a lead of half a million, it can be said that the possibility of a Brexit has to become less of an academic exercise and more of a realistic prospect.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20163:56 AM

Sterling has now suffered an 8-percent fall, its biggest ever.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20164:05 AM

Nigel Farage claims that common decency and honesty have won out against the forces of corruption, as we watch a dawn break on a new age.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20164:33 AM

I keep harping on about these divisions and I won’t stop. Looking at the map of who has declared only confirms that these divisions run deep and will take a long time to heal.

It’s not just Northern Ireland and Scotland versus England and Wales; it’s not just cities versus countryside; there are socio-economical divisions, such as the fact that graduates were more likely to vote to remain while those with less education were more likely to vote leave.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20164:36 AM

We wait on tenderhooks to hear the result from the city of Birmingham with 700,000 votes.
Early on in the night it was assumed that remain would win fairly comfortably here, but as the night has drawn on, this assumption has got less and less, and now we are being told that this will go down to the knife, and that even now it is to close to call.

This will be a blow to the Remain Campaign, who if they are to go on and win this, need to win big in birmingham and the other city and dense urban seats that are still counting.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20164:41 AM

It is now definite that the remain side can no longer make up the ground to win this referendum. Britain has voted to leave the EU.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20165:02 AM

Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party, has declared that the Scottish people have spoken and they see their future in Europe.

This result could reopen the constitutional debate around Scottish independence.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20165:13 AM

Could it be now, with an out vote, that this is the beginning of the end for the EU? Those in France, Italy, Greece will be watching to see what happens next.

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