Britain Votes to Leave E.U.; Cameron Plans to Step Down
New York Times,June 24, 2016
LONDON — Britain has voted to leave the European Union, a historic decision sure toreshape the nation’s place in the world, rattle the Continent and rock political establishments throughout the West.
Not long after the vote tally was completed, Prime Minister David Cameron, who led the campaign to remain in the bloc, appeared in front of 10 Downing Street to announce that he planned to step down by October, saying the country deserved a leader committed to carrying out the will of the people.
The stunning turn of events was accompanied by a plunge in the financial markets, with the value of the British pound and stock prices in Asia plummeting.
The margin of victory startled even proponents of a British exit. The “Leave” campaign won by 52 percent to 48 percent. More than 17.4 million people voted in the referendum on Thursday to sever ties with the European Union, and about 16.1 million to remain in the bloc.
“I will do everything I can as prime minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months,” Mr. Cameron said. “But I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.”
Despite opinion polls before the referendum that showed either side in a position to win, the outcome nonetheless stunned much of Britain, Europe and the trans-Atlantic alliance, highlighting the power of anti-elite, populist and nationalist sentiment at a time of economic and cultural dislocation.
“Dare to dream that the dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, one of the primary forces behind the push for a referendum on leaving the European Union, told cheering supporters just after 4 a.m.
Chuka Umunna, a Labour lawmaker, called the vote “a seismic moment for our country.” Keith Vaz, another Labour legislator, said: “This is a crushing decision; this is a terrible day for Britain and a terrible day for Europe. In 1,000 years, I would never have believed that the British people would vote for this.”
In Berlin, the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called the news “truly sobering” and said, “It looks like a sad day for Europe and for Britain.”Photo
Supporters of the campaign to leave, one draped in Britain’s Union Jack, in central London on Friday. Credit Adam Ferguson for The New York Times
Britain will become the first country to leave the 28-member bloc, which has been increasingly weighed down by its failures to deal fully with a succession of crises, from the financial collapse of 2008 to a resurgent Russia and the huge influx of migrants last year.
In response, Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said the assembly would hold an emergency session on Tuesday to address the decision by British voters.
It was a remarkable victory for the country’s anti-Europe forces, which not long ago were considered to have little chance of prevailing.
Financial markets, which had been anticipating that Britain would vote to stay in, started plunging before the vote tally was complete, putting pressure on central banks and regulators to take steps to guard against a spread of the damage.
Economists had predicted that a vote to leave the bloc could do substantial damage to the British economy, but Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of England, sought to address those concerns on Friday, saying the bank had made extensive contingency plans and had taken “all the necessary steps” to prepare.
THE VOTES FOR EACH SIDE
VOTESPCT. Remain 16,141,241 48%
Leave 17,410,742 52%
Mr. Cameron had vowed before the vote to move quickly to begin the divorce process if Britain opted to leave. But he said on Friday that he would leave the start of the formal process to his successor while seeking in the interim to calm the atmosphere before taking any action. In the meantime, nothing will change immediately on either side of the Channel, with existing trade and immigration rules remaining in place. The withdrawal process is expected to be complex and contentious, though under the bloc’s governing treaty it is effectively limited to two years.
For the European Union, the result is a disaster, raising questions about the direction, cohesion and future of a bloc built on liberal values and shared sovereignty that represents, with NATO, a vital component of Europe’s postwar structure.
Britain is the second-largest economy after Germany in the European Union, a nuclear power with a seat on the United Nations Security Council, an advocate of free-market economics and a close ally of the United States.
The loss of Britain is an enormous blow to the credibility of a bloc already under pressure from slow growth, high unemployment, the migrant crisis, Greece’s debt woes and the conflict in Ukraine.
“The main impact will be massive disorder in the E.U. system for the next two years,” said Thierry de Montbrial, founder and executive chairman of the French Institute of International Relations. “There will be huge political transition costs, on how to solve the British exit, and the risk of a domino effect or bank run from other countries that think of leaving.”
Europe will have to “reorganize itself in a system of different degrees of association,” said Karl Kaiser, a Harvard professor and former director of the German Council on Foreign Relations. “Europe does have an interest in keeping Britain in the single market, if possible, and in an ad hoc security relationship.”
While leaders of the Leave campaign spoke earnestly about sovereignty and the supremacy of Parliament or in honeyed tones about “the bright sunlit uplands” of Britain’s future free of Brussels, it was anxiety about immigration — membership in the European Union means freedom of movement and labor throughout the bloc — that defined and probably swung the campaign.