Britain Votes to Leave European Union in Referendum

Analysis and commentary from the Atlantic Sentinel in the aftermath of Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

British flags in Regent Street, London, April 28, 2011
British flags in Regent Street, London, April 28, 2011 (Andrew Tijou)
  • The United Kingdom has voted 52 to 48 percent in a referendum to leave the European Union. The difference is more than one million votes.
  • England and Wales strongly supported Brexit while Scotland and Northern Ireland largely voted to remain, raising the specter of further constitutional upheaval.
  • London and other metropolitan areas voted to stay in, revealing a deep split in British society.
  • The pound fell to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985 as markets reacted to the result.
  • Prime Minister David Cameron, who campaigned to stay in the EU, announced his resignation.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20167:13 AM

Good morning, readers. We are starting a new liveblog to discuss the aftermath of the “leave” vote.

The reaction in financial markets is predictably panicky. No country has ever left the EU and many businesses fear the consequences of an exit. Investors are probably going to sit on their money for a while. If you’re a foreign company in Britain, you may want to think twice about expanding. If you’re a European thinking about moving to Britain for work, you may want to put those plans on hold until there’s more clarity on what an exit would mean for your rights.

So the economic repercussions are bad in the short term.

Longer term, I think they may have been a little overstated. I argued in March it’s going to be more of a nuisance than a disaster for business. That is assuming the rest of the EU will offer the United Kingdom some kind of preferential access to the single market.

It’s clearly in the bloc’s economic interest to do so. Britain is the world’s fifth economy and a major importer of European products and services.

Then again, as Clive Crook has argued at Bloomberg View, some EU governments may also be fine with harming themselves a little in order to hurt Britain a lot — “you know, pour encourager les autres.” They wouldn’t want anyone else to get the idea it’s possible to have the sweet (the single market, free travel) without the bitter (paying into the EU budget, compromising with other nations).

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20168:26 AM
British prime minister David Cameron announces his resignation outside 10 Downing Street in London, England
British prime minister David Cameron announces his resignation outside 10 Downing Street in London, England (The Prime Minister’s Office/Tom Evans)

David Cameron is stepping down as prime minister.

Cameron spoke outside 10 Downing Street in London and said he would leave it to his successor to trigger the EU treaty’s Article 50, which initiates a two-year procedure to withdraw. He suggests a new prime minister should be in place around the time the ruling Conservative Party convenes in October.

Cameron assured Europeans leaving in Britain and Britons living in Europe there would be no immediate changes in their status. That’s cold comfort, though, knowing there will likely be a huge change within the next two years.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20168:29 AM

This is a huge loss for the Conservatives. Cameron presided over two election victories and shifted the party to the center. In his speech, he listed some of what he considers to be his key accomplishments: leading Britain’s economic recovery, legalizing gay marriage and maintaining foreign aid.

Around the time of the last election, I argued that David Cameron was the most liberal leader Britain was going to get and I still think that’s true. His successor is likely going to be a Euroskeptic, maybe Boris Johnson, maybe Theresa May. Either would move the Conservatives back to the right, widening the gap with Labour, which has leaped far to the left under Jeremy Corbyn. This is not good news for the center of British politics.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20169:00 AM

Can we just take a moment to reflect on how utterly useless Jeremy Corbyn has been to this whole campaign? While the Labour Party and the trade unions backed remain, Corbyn could hardly bring himself to. To his mind, the EU is a neoliberal project for bankers and businesses. It was clear his heart wasn’t in it and that lack of persuasion from the top appears to have had a real impact.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20169:09 AM

Much has been written about the implications of this referendum for relations between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I fully expect the Scottish National Party will push for another referendum on independence, which it may very well win this time around. The vast majority of Scots — 62 percent — want to stay in the EU.

But it’s not just Scotland. There are Northern Ireland and Gibraltar as well.

55 percent of the Northern Irish voted to remain in the EU. Leaving could be highly problematic for them, given how contentious the now-open border there is. For more, I recommend this article from The Atlantic.

Then there’s Gibraltar. The open border with Spain is absolutely vital to the Rock’s economy. The Spanish, who’ve never given up their claim on the territory, are already giddy with acting foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo saying, “I hope the formula of co-sovereignity — to be clear, the Spanish flag on the Rock — is much closer than before.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20169:38 AM

The way the referendum result breaks down confirms there is a deep “blue-red” cultural divide in the United Kingdom that transcends party politics.

Support for EU membership came from Conservative-voting businesspeople and professionals, the Labour-voting middle class as well as Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. The leave side brought together the Labour working class and rural Tories.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20169:54 AM

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, Cameron’s ideological counterpart, said he was disappointed by the outcome. Although the Dutch government, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, may quietly be relieved that its own referendum embarrassment — voters rejected the EU’s association treaty with Ukraine in April — is now out of the headlines.

Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders predictably called for a similar in-out referendum in the Netherlands, but none of the other parties, not even the Euroskeptic far-left Socialists, backed him. Rutte argued that “most Dutch people understand that for an open economy like the Netherlands, cooperation with other countries in a single market is vital.”

A poll (PDF) released last week showed 55 percent of Dutch voters hoping the British would stay in the European Union against 37 percent who supported an exit.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 201610:03 AM

More on what we call the blue-red divide from the BBC’s Mark Easton:

Yesterday seemed to offer a fork in the road: one path (remain) promised it would lead to a modern world of opportunity based on interdependence; the other (leave) was advertised as a route to an independent land that would respect tradition and heritage.

Which path voters took depended on the prism through which they saw the world, Easton argues.

City dwellers are generally more comfortable with diversity and globalization. “Successful cities are places in flux, constantly evolving to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world,” he writes.

In the countryside, it’s the opposite. There the focus is on protecting heritage. “It is a more conservative outlook that can see modern life as a threat, often nostalgic for a simpler, bucolic order.”

David Downing David Downing June 24, 201610:29 AM

It is now looking increasingly likely that before the end of the day the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, will set in motion the process for a second Scottish independence referendum.

Could it be that over the next few months we see the unraveling of the United Kingdom and the possibility of major changes in the EU?

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 201611:01 AM

The Financial Times argues that the leave vote has turned conventional wisdom on its head.

A country renowned for its conservatism and political stability has taken a leap into the dark. Many will blame an inept remain campaign lacking in passion and underestimating the depth of resentment toward the metropolitan elite. Fears about immigration and its impact on local communities — more legitimate than many have admitted — trumped national economic self-interest.

Indeed it did. Only a few days ago, Janan Ganesh predicted in the same newspaper that remain would prevail if the referendum came down to the question, “Do you dislike immigration more than you like economic calm?”

Perhaps too many voters are taking the economic calm for granted? Or perhaps we underestimated the number of people who don’t see economic calm at all but rather upheaval?

Immigration, the displacement of jobs, changing labor relations — they’re all part of the same phenomenon of which the EU is itself a symbol. Many Britons are comfortable with this changing reality, but just as many are worried and fearful of what it will mean for their jobs and their communities.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 201611:06 AM

Ganesh laments today that Cameron’s reputation will likely be overshadowed by the British decision to leave the EU. “Since Anthony Eden launched a botched military intervention in the Suez Canal sixty years ago, there has been no greater prime ministerial humiliation,” he writes.

Which is unfortunate, because Cameron’s true achievement was making the Conservative Party electable again by moving it to the center. His successor, likely to be a Euroskeptic, will not only have to preside over an EU exit but also has clear instructions from the electorate to cut immigration. Both will make England more parochial and the Conservative Party more reactionary, which, if Labour ever gets its act together, doesn’t bode well for its future electoral prospects.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 201611:18 AM

During the Vote Leave press conference, Labour’s Gisela Stuart states that Britain will remain an outward-looking, internationalist and welcoming nation.

Boris Johnson says he admires and respects Cameron for the fact that he has helped forge a one-nation consensus.

On this last point, it can be said the voting patterns in this referendum seem to betray this.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 201611:19 AM

Boris Johnson praises David Cameron as a “brave and principled” man. I’m afraid I can’t say the same about the former mayor, who appears to have changed his mind on EU membership out of political considerations alone. Having led the campaign to leave, he is now first in line to succeed the prime minister.

I wrote last month that Johnson had drifted too far to the Euroskeptic fringe, blaming the EU for Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and suggesting American president Barack Obama’s Kenyan heritage had anything to do with his support for continued British membership.

Johnson is arguing that the leave vote doesn’t make the United Kingdom “any less European” — but it does. He is a liberal, who wants Britain to remain outward-looking. The trouble is he has made a treacherous pact with small-minded nativists who now have the upper hand. Britain is not going to turn itself into a Singapore on the Thames. Outside the EU, it will be more of a Little England. Literally, if Scotland secedes.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 201611:23 AM

Nick is quite right on Johnson and his almost Faustian pact with the leave campaign.

Michael Gove now speaking and saying that Cameron will be remembered as a great prime minister. Will that still be the case if, as is now likely, Scotland holds a referendum that leads to the breakup of the United Kingdom that his party, the Conservative and Unionst Party, is meant to defend?

This would be a larger mark against him than being the first Conservative prime minister since 1992 to win a general election majority.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 201611:29 AM
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland gives a news conference in Edinburgh
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland gives a news conference in Edinburgh (Scottish Government)

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, says the region faces the prospect of being taken out of the EU against its will. That, she says, is “democratically unacceptable” and changes the calculation from 2014, when a majority of Scots voted in their own referendum to remain in the United Kingdom.

A second independence referendum is now “on the table,” according to Sturgeon, who says she will do everything she can to “secure our continuing place in the EU and in the single market in particular.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 201611:43 AM

Handelsblatt argues in its morning briefing that the European project now faces an existential crisis. “The brave pioneers who spent their political capital forging an ever-closer postwar union are today considered an imposition,” according to the Germans.

The EU institutions and bureaucracies, the back rooms and the inscrutable procedures — this is not the United States of Europe we dreamed of. Brussels, with its courtly demeanor, has become code for the transfer of power under the pretext of democracy.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 201612:15 PM

Breaking news coming in that Labour parliamentarians are preparing to table a vote of no confidence in their leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 201612:42 PM

“British business is resilient, it can withstand change and it can adapt.” That is is the key message coming from the director general of the Confederation of British Industry.

She further states that this wasn’t the decision of British businesses but they will fight to make sure that the British people get the best out of an EU settlement they can.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 201612:50 PM

John Redwood, a longtime Conservative Euroskeptic, believes the United Kingdom might be able to exit EU without even having to trigger Article 50 and renegotiating its terms of access to the common market.

Elsewhere, the Irish prime minister says he is “very sad” about the result while Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, says she “deeply regrets” the fact Britain has voted to leave.

The mood across Europe is one of shock tinged with hints of steely determination, that now Britain has voted there can be no delay in its triggering Article 50 and exiting the EU. There will be little appetite for doing the British any favors.

This, of course, clashes with what David Cameron wants, who set out earlier he wanted a new prime minister in October to begin the process of negotiating Britain’s exit.

David Downing David Downing June 24, 201612:56 PM

Margaret Hodge, a senior Labour MP, has said she believes Corbyn must resign. The referendum was a test of his leadership and popularity, she argues, and he has failed that test.

Could it be that by the end of the day both Labour and the Conservatives are effectively leaderless?

David Downing David Downing June 24, 20161:01 PM

It is now 1 PM here in Britain and if anything we are left with more questions than when we started today. It looks like the summer is going to be a long, hot political bloodbath.

This is David signing off. Nick will be back with you shortly.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl June 24, 20161:13 PM

Expectations are high that Wall Street will have a rough day today. The tumbling pound and uncertainty around the future means many companies with stakes in London, using the United Kingdom as a base to access Europe, will see heavy losses today.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20162:13 PM

About that confidence vote in Corbyn: There’s a good chance it won’t come that far. The proposal has been made by only two lawmakers and will need to be discussed by the entire parliamentary party on Monday. Only if the proposal is accepted there would there be a secret ballot the next day.

Still, whether it comes to a vote or not, it’s clear Corbyn’s leadership is weakening. It’s not just his wavering on the EU; it’s his hesitation to condemn antisemitism on the left, his far-left policy proposals, his radical pacifism. Barely a dozen of Labour’s parliamentarians wanted Corbyn as their leader to begin with. They probably realize that if the Conservative Party is going to take a turn to the right, there is opportunity for a moderate, reasonable Labour Party to reoccupy the center. That’s not going to happen so long as Corbyn is leader, though.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20162:32 PM

The Economist described the vote for leave as “an outpouring of fury against the establishment.”

Everyone from Barack Obama to the heads of NATO and the IMF urged Britons to embrace the EU. Their entreaties were spurned by voters who rejected not just their arguments but the value of “experts” in general. Large chunks of the British electorate that have borne the brunt of public-spending cuts and have failed to share in Britain’s prosperity are now in thrall to an angry populism.

The newspaper hopes that Cameron’s successor will be able to negotiate Norwegian-style access to the single market along with continued free movement of people. The latter is unlikely, of course. It’s the main reason why people voted to leave.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20162:56 PM

There is a risk the Conservative Party will abandon the center ground where it won the last two elections, I write. Whoever Cameron’s successor is will likely be more reactionary and he or she will anyway be in thrall to the Euroskeptics for whom the outcome of the referendum is a vindication.

It’s unlikely to hurt the Conservatives in the short term, given that Labour has taken a holiday from electability under Jeremy Corbyn. But if and when they get their act together, it’s the Conservatives, if indeed they repudiate the Cameron line, who will lose out.

Click here to read the rest.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20164:19 PM

Dutch political commentator Syp Wynia cautions European leaders in Elsevier magazine against interpreting Britain’s exit as an opportunity for deeper integration.

That would add fuel to the flames, because while the British may be special they’re not exceptional. There is aversion to Brussels everywhere and growing attachment to the national.

Jelte Wiersma urges Germany in the same publication to recognize that Europe neither wants nor needs “ever-closer union” anymore.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20164:26 PM

Visegrad Insight reports that Central European countries will suffer from a British exit. The United Kingdom is a top destination for Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovakian exports. The second-largest national minority in Britain, after Pakistanis, are Poles, who send home around €1 billion in remittances every year. Since migrants were scapegoated during referendum campaign, “many of them may either consider or be forced to leave,” Visegrad Insight fears.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20164:31 PM

Matthew d’Ancona, like me a fan of the Cameron project, is pessimistic. He writes in The Guardian that the Conservative Party belongs to the Brexiters now.

I will not say of Cameron that nothing became his career like the ending of it. More than Gordon Brown, he was the first prime minister to feel the unmitigated wrath of the electorate post-crash, amplified by social media, oxygenated by a broader contempt for elites of all kinds. The Brexiters will soon discover that the flames they fanned are not easily controlled.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20165:17 PM

Stephen Kinnock, a lawmaker whose father, Neil, served as Labour Party leader from 1983 to 1992, says he supports the no-confidence motion placed against Jeremy Corbyn, calling his involvement in the referendum campaign “lackluster”.

Carolina Flint, another parliamentarian who served as energy secretary in the last Labour government, said Corbyn needs “to take some responsibility” for the vote to leave.

But the trade unions, whose members helped elect Corbyn in the first place, have put out a statement supporting him. Various union leaders argue that “the last thing Labour needs is a manufactured leadership row of its own” now that the Conservatives are gearing up for their leadership contest.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said he is confident Corbyn would win if there is another leadership vote.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20168:27 PM

As there’s some unease about the fact that 100,000+ Conservative Party members will now elect Britain’s next prime minister, it’s worth bearing in mind that leadership elections were extended to the party membership because it was felt having the parliamentary party choosing leaders — and therefore possibly prime ministers — on its own wasn’t democratic enough.

I disagree. In a parliamentary system, it’s only right for lawmakers to elect their leader and then for the majority to elect the prime minister. Giving ordinary, unelected party members a role muddles the process and, as we saw with Labour last year and with the presidential primaries in the United States this year, it gives inordinate power to activists who are not representative of the country at large.

Remember: after John Major’s defeat in 1997, the Conservatives went through three right-wing, Euroskeptic leaders before they picked Cameron. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see something similar happen over the next decade. As Matthew d’Ancona wrote earlier today, the party belongs to the Brexiters now.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 20169:37 PM

Timothy Garton Ash blames the half-truths and outright lies peddled by the leave campaign as well as Britain’s Euroskeptic press for yesterday’s vote. But he also urges introspection.

How did we, as educators, allow such a simplistic narrative to go unchallenged by good history and civics taught at school and university? How did we, as journalists, allow the Euroskeptic press to get away with it, setting the daily news agenda for radio and television as well? How can we pro-Europeans have so underrated the painful sense of losing out from Europeanization that I encountered on the doorstep when canvassing for a vote to remain and which now screams through the vote of the other half of England?

I think it may have been a combination of fear and complacency.

Fear on the part of media like the BBC to be accused of bias by the out side — which, predictably, they were anyway, because part of the whole anti-EU psyche is to see conspiracy in everything. Hence journalists treated claims from both sides equally, inadvertently legitimizing the exaggerations and lies of the leave campaign.

There may also have been a bit of complacency on the part of mildly pro-EU Britons who expected common sense would prevail and there was no need to get actively involved in something that didn’t stir their passions. That’s the trouble when one side is fanatical about change and the other no more than satisfied with the status quo.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 24, 201610:01 PM

Smart observation from Megan McArdle in her Bloomberg View column: “members of the global professional class have started to identify more with each other than they have with the fellow residents of their own countries.”

This goes to the whole blue-red culture war we’ve been writing about. Pro- and anti-EU Britons live in different worlds and are increasingly struggling to understand each other.

It’s not just Britain. This is the case in other European countries and much the same could be said about pro- and anti-Donald Trump voters in the United States.

“Elites missed this,” McArdle writes about the anti-EU sentiment, “because they’re the exception — “the one group that has a transnational identity.” The second part is right. The first, I think, is a little off. It’s not that elites missed this. It’s that they’re not sure what to do about it.

McArdle suggests the solution is a United States of Europe and a European nationalism modeled on America’s. Which is not uncommon to hear from Americans and quite wrong. First of all, that’s exactly what the Euroskeptics fear and oppose. Second, it would take generations to accomplish and therefore is not a solution to our problems today.

Americans’ ancestors left behind their sense of belonging, so it was easier for them to forge and embrace an American identity. Europeans still have their own nationalisms, even if elites don’t care for them. You would have to develop a pan-European identity around or on top of that. That’s hard.

Rather than premise the whole project on a shared European experience that is not coming about, I recommend pragmatism. Don’t sell “Europe” as an historic inevitability or think you can scare people into voting for it. Instead, keep explaining why it makes practical sense: the single market, easy travel, crossborder cooperation to stop criminals and terrorists. These are things people understand and support.

Then over time, the more they work and do business with other Europeans, the more they travel to and study in other European countries, the more “European” people may start to feel.

Leave a reply