Brexit vote sends shock waves in Britain and beyond
LONDON - The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union sent political and economic shock waves throughout the country and the rest of Europe.
The decision transformed the political landscape in Britain, with David Cameron announcing he would step down as prime minister. “The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered,” said Cameron, who backed the Remain campaign.
Speaking outside of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister said: “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.”
Britain’s second and third parties, which also backed the Remain campaign, will also undergo significant changes. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, head of the Scottish National Party, announced she intends to keep Scotland in the European Union, promising another referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom.
A vote of no confidence was called against Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, with many members of parliament frustrated he did not campaign hard enough for a Remain victory. Traditional Labour strongholds in Wales and northern England ignored the party’s pleas to vote Remain.
The June 23rd referendum was won by the Leave campaign with 17,410,742 votes (51.9%) with the Remain campaign securing 16,141,241 votes (48.1%). Voter turnout was 72.2%, lower than expected but it was not thought to have significantly affected the results.
Immigration was one of the main issues of the election. The Leave campaign was criticised for scaremongering tactics, raising fears about mass migration and its effects.
Brexit could boost the political fortunes of right-wing and anti-immigrant parties in Europe and cause concern for immigrants there. Leaders of such parties in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and France have demanded referendums on EU membership. France’s National Front party leader Marine Le Pen celebrated the Brexit vote. “Victory for freedom!” she said.
With the European Union set to enter an uncertain period following the Brexit vote, questions are being asked as to how this will affect the union’s response to the issue of migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa, particularly as British boats had played a major role in patrolling the area.
Arab countries expressed concern that inter-EU turmoil could result in a lack of focus regarding vital development projects and diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Brexit vote had a significant effect on the economy. The British pound plummeted to a 31-year-low and the FTSE 100 stock index in London was down more than 8% in the first minutes of trading on June 24th — its biggest fall since the 2008 global financial crisis.
More than $148 billion in share value was wiped off the index the first day of trading after the vote. The Bank of England intervened to stop the free fall, announcing it would make an extra $370 billion available to banks.
Speculation is rife about who will replace Cameron as head of the Conservative Party and prime minister, with former London mayor Boris Johnson and Justice Secretary Michael Gove — both high-profile members of the Leave campaign — tipped as favourites. Home Secretary Theresa May, who backed the Remain campaign, is also being mentioned as a leadership candidate.
It will be the task of the next prime minister to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the European Union and negotiate the terms after Cameron said he would leave that to his successor.
The article is triggered after the British prime minister officially notifies the union of Britain’s intention to leave, following which there is a two-year period during which the terms of Britain’s exit are negotiated. During this time, Britain would not take part in EU decision-making.
In addition to negotiating Britain’s access to the single market and bilateral trade deals, issues such as security, intelligence-sharing and counterterrorism will be discussed. Europol Director Rob Wainwright warned of the effect that Brexit could have on British national security.
“[Brexit] has the potential to harm the UK’s ability to fight terrorism and crime because of the extent to which police cooperation information systems and other capabilities in the EU become embedded in the [British] police community and, to a lesser extent, the intelligence community,” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper ahead of the vote.
“There will be a negative impact, it is just a question of how big or small. It is really about damage limitation.”
British foreign policy in the Middle East could significantly change, depending on who takes over the Conservative Party. Johnson wrote a controversial article last December calling on Britain to work with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. That would represent a large shift in Britain’s stance on Syria, where it is part of a US-led, anti-ISIS coalition.