Britain votes to leave the European Union
Britain | Unprecedented move begins a long process to form new relationships with its continental neighbors
by Samantha Gobba
Posted 6/23/16, 09:35 pm
UPDATE (7:20 a.m., June 24): Britain will leave the European Union, and Prime Minister David Cameron will resign before October.
Those were the final conclusions of the much anticipated Brexit vote, held Thursday. When all the ballots were counted, 52 percent of Britons voted to abandon the EU, with 72 percent of the more than 46 million registered voters casting ballots. Cameron, who had lobbied hard to remain part of the union, said the country now needed new leadership.
“I will do everything I can as prime minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months, but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers the country to its next destination,” he said.
During the next few years, Cameron’s successor must renegotiate trade, business, and political links between the U.K. and the EU. No country has gone through such a process in EU history, so it’s not clear exactly how it will work. But the slow severing of ties will complicate relations with Britain’s nearest neighbors: Scotland and Ireland. Leaders of both say they want to remain part of the union. After a failed vote several years ago to leave the U.K., Scottish leaders now say they will prepare to hold a referendum on remaining in the EU.
While the future holds much uncertainty, those who campaigned for the divorce from Europe are celebrating the moment.
“The dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party. “Let June 23 go down in our history as our independence day!”
OUR EARLIER REPORT (9:35 p.m., June 23): Not even the torrential downpour that swept across the south of Britain, canceling trains and flooding polling stations, kept Londoners from flocking to participate in one of the most important votes in recent U.K. history.
In a referendum known as “Brexit,” a combination of the words “British” and “exit,” the nation decided whether or not to stay in or leave the European Union (EU), where it has been a member since 1973.
Nervous Britons settled in for a long night Thursday as election returns trickled in. Exit polls initially showed a narrow victory for the “Remain camp,” sending the British pound soaring in international exchanges. Even the leading advocate for leaving the EU conceded it looked like his opponents had won the day. But when actual vote tallies began, the ballots hinted the outcome might not be so certain.
“I think this is going to be a long night,” former Labour Party leader Ed Milliband told Sky News.
Polls leading up to the vote showed a close race between the “Remain camp” and the “Leave camp.” On the day of the vote, polls showed 51 percent of voters in favor of staying with the EU and 49 percent in favor of leaving. One week earlier, polls showed the leave camp slightly ahead.
The tipping point in the polls could be linked to the murder of anti-Brexit activist and Member of Parliament Jo Cox, who was shot last week by a man linked with neo-Nazi groups. He allegedly shouted “Britain first!” before opening fire.
At her funeral, Cox’s husband Brendan called her murder a political killing: “It was an act of terror designed to advance hatred towards others.”
Much of the anti-EU sentiment centered on immigration and the number of Middle Eastern migrants who have surged through Europe and across the English Channel in the last few years. Under EU rules, Britain had limited options for stemming the migrant flow.
The EU was born after WWII, when European countries hungered for unity. Tens of millions died between the Septembers of 1939 and 1945, and leaders such as Britain’s Winston Churchill and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer called for widespread collaboration.
Churchill, in a 1946 post-war speech in Zurich, Switzerland, called for a “sovereign remedy” to war.
“It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom,” he said. “We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
Formed by the “inner six” countries—Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany—the European Union has grown to encompass 28 countries that have signed treaties with one another and become part of a single trade market.
But Britain’s relationship with the EU is anything but simple. In 1961, England applied to join the European Economic Community, now under the umbrella of the EU, but was twice blocked by French President Charles de Gaulle. He claimed the British had “deep-seated hostility” toward a European union.
It was not until de Gaulle fell from power that British Prime Minister Edward Heath renewed his country’s application and gained entry to the community of nations.
Even then, the road wasn’t smooth. Britain refused to take part in the euro currency launched by the EU to unify economies, holding tightly to the English pound. Over the years, the EU heaped more and more regulations on member nations—rules that overruled national laws.
“Sometimes these EU rules sound simply ludicrous, like the rule that you can’t recycle a teabag, or that children under 8 cannot blow up balloons, or the limits on the power of vacuum cleaners,” former London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote. “Sometimes they can be truly infuriating—like the time I discovered, in 2013, that there was nothing we could do to bring in better-designed cab windows for trucks, to stop cyclists being crushed. It had to be done at a European level, and the French were opposed.”
Perhaps the greatest cause of frustration is the mandate that every EU country must allow citizens of other EU countries to work without restrictions. Floundering European economies are driving workers to more prosperous areas, and Britain took in about 630,000 immigrants in 2015, nearly double the number 20 years ago, and more than double the number of those who left.
What was intended to bind countries together and prevent mass bloodshed now is the source of much bitterness. Some speculate a successful Brexit would have caused a domino effect across a disgruntled Europe.
In June, Switzerland’s parliament voted to withdraw its 1992 application to the EU, following Iceland’s vote in March 2015 to do the same.
“Iceland’s interests are better served outside the European Union,” foreign minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said in a statement.
It’s a sentiment echoed in France, the Czech Republic, and elsewhere, leading European Council President Donald Tusk to warn Brexit was “a very attractive model for some politicians in Europe to achieve some internal, very egotistic goals.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Samantha reports on the pro-life movement for WORLD Digital.