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The UK last night unexpectedly voted to leave the EU, with 17.4 million (51.9%) casting their votes in favour of Brexit compared to 16.1 million (48.1%) in favour of continued membership. Turnout was higher than expected at 72.2%. Leave won in Wales and across most of England outside of London, which voted Remain by 59.9% to 40.1%, and several other large cities. However, Scotland voted for Remain by a margin of 62% to 38%, Northern Ireland voted for Remain by a margin of 55.8% to 44.2%, while Gibraltar voted Remain by 96% to 4%.
Following Leave’s victory, David Cameron this morning announced that he is going to step down as Prime Minister. He told reporters, “The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered…We must now prepare for a negotiation with the EU…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 our country to its next destination.”
He went on, “There is no need for a precise timetable today but in my view we should aim to have a new prime minister in place by the start of the Conservative Party conference in October. Delivering stability will be important and I will continue in post as Prime Minister with my Cabinet for the next three months.” Cameron said that he would not trigger Article 50 of the EU Treaties, which sets out the process for leaving the EU, adding that this would be something for his successor to do.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is due to give a press conference later today but during the night she issued a statement which noted that “that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union.”
Meanwhile, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said this morning, “It will take some time for the UK to establish a new relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. So some market and economic volatility can be expected as this process unfolds, but we are well prepared for this…The Bank of England will not hesitate to take additional measure as required, as markets adjust.”
The Open Europe team featured in numerous UK and foreign outlets throughout the referendum night. Stephen Booth appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live. Nina Schick appeared on German public broadcaster ZDF and Sweden Radio. Pawel Swidlicki appeared on Polish broadcaster TVN and Norwegian TV. Vincenzo Scarpetta appeared on Sky TG24, Al-Jazeera English and the French-speaking Swiss national radio. Pieter Cleppe was interviewed by CNN, France 2, BBC World Service, Sweden’s TV4, Spain’s Capital Radio, Belgian daily La Libre Belgique, EurActiv, and Dutch magazine Elsevier. He argued, “It would be the wrong decision to punish the UK by restricting access for the UK’s financial services. This would drive up the cost of investment projects on the continent while it may also trigger British tariffs on imports from the continent”.
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European Council President Donald Tusk said this morning that he was “fully aware” of how “serious” and “dramatic” Britain’s decision to leave the EU was, and warned, “There’s no way of predicting all the political consequences of this event, especially for the UK.” He added that EU leaders will meet “in the margins” of the European Council summit next Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the details of Britain’s exit, but gave reassurances that there “will be no legal vacuum” and that “EU law will continue to apply to and within the UK.” He added, “All the procedures for the withdrawal of the UK from the EU are clear and set out in the Treaties. I will also propose to the leaders that we start a wider reflection on the future of our union.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to make an official statement later this morning. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said, “We respect the result of the British referendum…Europe will now stand together. Together we have to make the best out of the decision of our British friends.” He added that the formal withdrawal process via Article 50 of the EU Treaties “provides reliability.” Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of the centre-left SPD, tweeted this morning, “Damn! A bad day for Europe”, echoed by his fellow party member, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who described today as “a sad day for Europe and Great Britain.” The foreign ministers of the six EU founding member states – France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – are expected to meet in Berlin tomorrow.
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag, Norbert Röttgen, called Brexit “the biggest catastrophe in the history of European integration…The ultimate goal now has to be to guarantee the cohesion and unity in Europe. Germany can contribute to this like no other country.” He also voiced the hope that the UK might re-join the EU one day in the future.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, “Firstly this is a disappointing result. It’s also a stimulus to reform the EU…This dissatisfaction [with the EU] also lives in me, but cooperation in the EU is of vital importance for a trading nation like the Netherlands, also for our security and prosperity.” He added, “I don’t think there is widespread support in the Netherlands for holding an [EU] exit referendum.”
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said, “This is very unfortunate news. The people of the UK had a great deal to gain by remaining in the EU. Sweden is losing an important partner in the EU.”
Het Financieele Dagblad
Spain’s acting Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said this morning that, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote in the UK, “It’s a complete change of outlook that opens up new possibilities on Gibraltar not seen for a very long time. I hope the formula of co-sovereignty – to be clear, the Spanish flag on the Rock – is much closer than before.”
Commenting on the outcome of the UK’s EU referendum, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz warned that “a domino effect to other [EU] countries cannot be excluded.” Meanwhile, Front National leader Marine Le Pen welcomed the outcome of the referendum, telling France’s RTL radio, “Like a lot of French people, I’m very happy that the British people held on and made the right choice. What we thought was impossible yesterday has now become possible.” Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch anti-immigrant PVV party, this morning called for a referendum on the Netherlands’ membership of the EU, telling Dutch radio, “I think it’s historic. I think it could also have huge consequences for the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. Now it’s our turn. I think the Dutch people must now be given the chance to have their say in a referendum.”
Leave won it in the areas expected (East of England and Labour heartlands) but largely thanks to bigger-than-expected margins in these areas. There are likely to be long term ructions in UK politics as the country is divided. There is no doubt this vote will change both the UK and Europe. However, at this stage it is impossible to say much with certainty. Now is a time for reflection and cool heads. The UK first needs to examine what it wants both in terms of domestic politics and its relationship with the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron made clear that it will be up to the new Prime Minister when the leaving process is triggered – it is unlikely to begin until the UK has a clearer plan and negotiating strategy. This is the right strategy. Market turmoil has ensued as expected, particularly due to incorrect predictions until late last night. The Bank of England will do its best to manage this. At some point large declines could become a buying opportunity. Europe’s reaction remains to be seen. But with elections in all large EU states over the coming 18 months, as well as the ongoing migration and Eurozone crisis, the climate for the negotiations remain quite uncertain.
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