LONDON: Britain’s vote to leave the European Union after a bitterly divisive referendum campaign, saw the toppling of the country’s prime minister and sent global markets plunging, shattering the stability of a project in continental unity designed half a century ago to prevent World War III.The decision launches a years-long process to renegotiate trade, business and political links between Britain and what will become a 27-nation bloc, an unprecedented divorce that could take decades to complete.
“The dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the Independence Party. “Let June 23 go down in our history as our independence day!”
Prime Minister David Cameron, who had led the campaign to keep Britain in the EU, said he would resign by October and left it to his successor to decide when to invoke Article 50, which would trigger a departure from European Union.
Polls ahead of the vote had shown a close race, and the momentum had increasingly appeared to be on the “remain” side over the last week. But in the election marked by notably high turnout – 72% of the more than 46 million registered voters – “leave” won with about 52% of the votes.
The result shocked investors, and stock markets plummeted around the world, with key indexes dropping by 10% in Germany and about 8% in Japan and Britain.
The euro fell against the dollar and the pound dropped to its lowest level since 1985, plunging more than 10% from about US$1.50 to US$1.35 before a slight recovery, on concerns that severing ties with the single market will hurt the British economy and undermine London’s position as a global financial centre.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney sought to reassure the markets.
“We are well prepared for this,” Carney said.
“The Treasury and the Bank of England have engaged in extensive contingency planning. We have taken all the necessary steps to prepare for today’s events.”
Also seeking to calm frayed nerves was the most prominent “leave” campaigner, Boris Johnson.
Taking a sombre tone unusual for the flamboyant former London mayor, he described the EU as a noble idea which was no longer right for Britain. He said the result in no way means the United Kingdom would be “less united” or “less European”.
Even as he spoke, however, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a second Scottish referendum on independence from the United Kingdom was now “highly likely”.
Scotland voted in 2014 to remain a part of the United Kingdom but that decision was seen by many as being conditional on Britian remaining in the EU.
Britain would be the first major country to leave the EU, which was born from the ashes of World War II as European leaders sought to build links and avert future hostility.
With no precedent, the impact on the single market of 500 million people – the world’s largest economy – is unclear.