A majority of voters in the United Kingdom of Great Britain have decided to break up with the European Union, British mass media outlets are projecting, stunning financial markets and pundits who had predicted a victory for the Remain campaign when all was said and done. At around midnight Eastern time and 9 PM Pacific, the Leave side had a lead of over 700,000 votes, and was winning handily in England and Wales, but losing Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has yet to issue any statement or react to the referendum. Several authorities have yet to release their counts, though the number of areas that have yet to report in is dwindling, which is why the BBC and other media outlets have started making projections.
Britain’s currency, the pound sterling, has already fallen sharply, dropping to levels not seen since 1985, and major losses are expected when the London stock market opens for business in a few hours. Asian markets are already in bad shape.
The notion that the United Kingdom will soon become “independent” may be a short-lived fantasy. There may not be a United Kingdom at all for very much longer. What tonight’s vote reminded us is that the UK is a deeply divided country, despite its name. England and Wales have endorsed a breakup with the European Union, but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted decisively to Remain.
Britain’s exist from the European Union is almost sure to revitalize the effort in Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. Asked to react to the results of the vote, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon did not immediately call for another Scottish independence referendum, but did point out that a majority of Scots were in favor of sticking with the EU, in contrast to the English:
Scotland has delivered a strong, unequivocal vote to remain in the EU, and I welcome that endorsement of our European status. And while the overall result remains to be declared, the vote here makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union.
Scotland has contributed significantly to the remain vote across the UK. That reflects the positive campaign the SNP fought, which highlighted the gains and benefits of our EU membership, and people across Scotland have responded to that positive message. We await the final UK-wide result, but Scotland has spoken – and spoken decisively.
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling certainly shares this view. She tweeted, “Scotland will seek independence now. [David] Cameron’s legacy will be breaking up two unions. Neither needed to happen.”
Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, the pro-Irish reunification political party Sinn Fein declared: “The British government has forfeited any mandate to represent economic or political interests of people in Northern Ireland.”
President Barack Obama is currently in California and scheduled to fly to Seattle tomorrow for fundraising events. The White House has not released a statement on the vote, owing to the lateness of the hour, the fact that not all the votes have been counted yet, and the likelihood that Obama has not yet called Cameron to discuss the fallout with him. But there will probably be a statement coming tomorrow.
“The President has been briefed on the incoming returns in the UK referendum, and he will continue to be updated by his team as the situation warrants,” said a spokesman for the Obama administration. “We expect the President will have an opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Cameron over the course of the next day, and we will release further comment as soon as appropriate.”
There is expected to be immediate fallout from the “Brexit” in the United States, as the Wall Street Journal’s Ian Talley explains:
Britain’s exit is expected to jolt the U.S. economy, likely rattling restive equity markets and driving up the value of the dollar. It could also weaken U.S. diplomatic leverage in Europe and upend the corporate strategies of U.S. companies based in London.
Top finance officials say the damage from the so-called Brexit alone isn’t likely to be enough to nudge the U.S. into a contraction. But as skittish investors pull out of U.K. and European markets and pour into the safety of U.S. assets, a falling pound and euro could cause the dollar to surge, further suppressing demand for American exports.
Ireland will also be significantly affected.
‘The Government notes the outcome of the UK EU referendum this morning,” the Irish government said in a statement. “This result clearly has very significant implications for Ireland, as well as for Britain and for the European Union. The Government will meet later this morning to reflect on the result. Following that meeting, the Taoiseach will make a public statement.”
UPDATE, BREAKING NEWS, 12:28 AM: Prime Minister David Cameron has delivered a statement outside of Number 10 Downing Street accepting the results of the referendum and announcing that he will resign as Prime Minister in October. Thus triggers a leadership contest in the governing Tory Party. It will likely also lead to new elections in the U.K. within the next year.
I was absolutely clear [in the referendum] about my belief that Britain is stronger, safer and better off inside the European Union. And I made clear the referendum was about this and this alone, not the future of any single politician, including myself.
But the British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path and as such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.
I will do everthing 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.
This is not a decision I have taken lightly. But I do believe it’s in the national interest to have a period of stability and then the new leadership required.
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.
This post will be updated with fresh developments.