Just the Facts: The UK Referendum on EU Membership

On Thursday 23 June, the UK voted to leave the EU.  In this Just the Facts, which is the final in a series European Movement Ireland has produced on the referendum, we look at the results and implications of this ballot.

Background

On Thursday 23 June, 33.6 million eligible voters answered the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?”

The referendum began with a campaign pledge from Conservative leader and Prime Minister David Cameron in the lead up to the 2015 UK general election.  Following intense negotiations with EU institutions and leaders, the referendum was officially announced in February 2016.

Result

At 6.04am on Friday, 24 June, the Electoral Commission Chief Counting Officer for the EU referendum, Ms. Jenny Watson, announced the official result from Manchester Town Hall. The total number of ballot papers counted was 33,577,342. The declaration confirmed that 48.1% of votes (16,141,241) were cast in favour of remaining a member of the EU and 51.9% of votes (17,410,742) were cast in favour of leaving the EU.

Turnout

Based on a confirmed electorate of 46,500,001, turnout at the referendum was 72.2%.

Prior to the referendum, turnout was considered to be one of the most influential factors in determining the result.  Opinion polls had shown that older voters were more likely to vote than younger voters, and were more likely to vote Leave. This was reflected in the breakdown of the vote, with 39% of those aged 65+ voting to Leave, and 75% of 18-24 year olds voting to Remain.

The breakdown by region was as follows:

  • Northern Ireland: 56% Remain, 44% Leave
  • England: 47% Remain, 53% Leave
  • Scotland: 62% Remain, 38% Leave
  • Wales: 43.5% Remain, 52.5% Leave

Further analysis showed those in London voting 61% in favour of remaining a member of the EU.

Article 50 and political uncertainty

Prime Minister David Cameron appeared in front of the media at 8am on Friday announcing his resignation. Declaring that he did not believe he was the right person to lead exit negotiations with the EU, he announced that he would remain in the role until the Conservative party conference in October, when a new party leader would be chosen.

The UK must now trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by formally informing the President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, of their intention to withdraw from the Union. Article 50 was written into law to allow a Member State to withdraw from the EU, and it lays out the provisions for such an action.  After official notification of intent to withdraw, a Member State will negotiate a new arrangement with the European Council, which will be accepted by Qualified Majority Voting.  The Member State will not be able to participate in discussions of the European Council regarding the new arrangement, and it has two years within which to agree to an arrangement.

Essentially, this means that the UK will have two years from the day it invokes Article 50 to conclude negotiations on a new arrangement with the EU, and to withdraw from the EU. However, it is unclear when the UK will invoke the Article. Although EU officials would like to see withdrawal negotiations begin as soon as possible, PM Cameron would prefer not to trigger Article 50 until he is replaced in October.  Prominent Leave campaigners such as Boris Johnson have also declared there is “no haste” to trigger the Article.

National and international effects of the vote

In lieu of exit polls, the financial markets were expected to be the most accurate indicator of the result; and it proved to be a tumultuous day for sterling, which experienced its biggest ‘intraday’ changes, i.e. movement within one day, since at least 1989.  It fell 11% against the dollar overnight to reach its lowest rate in 30 years. The FTSE Index, a barometer of domestic companies, dropped 12.2% at the open and both Asian and USA stock markets plummeted as the result became official on the morning of Friday, 24 June. Some bourses rallied, but the overall decline continued when markets reopened on Monday, 27 June.

Within the UK, the result of the referendum has triggered an unprecedented political crisis. The Labour party is in political turmoil, as 12 members of the UK’s shadow cabinet had resigned as of Monday, June 27, with more expected.  A motion of no confidence was tabled by two Labour MPs against their leader Jeremy Corbyn MP on Friday. Mr Corbyn MP declared he will not stand down and would run again as leader of the Labour party if a motion was tabled.

The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, declared that a second Scottish independence referendum is ‘highly likely’ on the grounds that it was ‘democratically unacceptable’ that Scotland faces being taken out of the EU against its will.

The effect of the referendum on the UK’s influence in the EU became tangible when the UK’s European Commissioner, Lord Hill, resigned on Saturday, June 25. Lord Hill had been responsible for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. This will now be passed onto the European Commissioner for the Euro and Social Dialogue, Mr. Valdis Dombrovskis.  This has been interpreted by some as the first step towards aligning the single market for finance with the interests of the Eurozone and its banking union.

The Presidents of the European Council, European Commission and European Parliament issued a joint statement at 11am on Friday. Mr. Donald Tusk, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker and Mr. Martin Schulz declared that they regretted but respected Britain’s decision and that they expect the UK to act on its vote and leave the union “as soon as possible, however painful that process may be”. They added that there would be no renegotiation; however the German Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel said that there was no need to be ‘nasty’ in negotiations. The European Parliament will hold an emergency plenary session on Tuesday 28 June, and the European Council is due to meet on the 28 and 29 June to discuss the results of the referendum.

The President of the United States Barack Obama announced that he respected the decision of the UK, and that the special relationship shared by the USA and the UK is enduring.

Meanwhile, leaders of nationalist movements across Europe responded warmly to the result, as did US Presidential candidate, Donald Trump.  “I’m very happy that the British people held on and made the right choice”, Ms. Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Front party said. Ms. Le Pen is expected to run for the French presidency in 2017.

Ireland

Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke to the media on Friday. The Taoiseach said he was sorry about the result, but respected the decision of the British electorate.  Ireland would remain a member of the European Union, he stated, and its position will be set out in the European Council meeting on 28/29 June to ensure its national interests are protected. The government published key points of a contingency framework on Friday afternoon. They include three phases – immediate, pre-negotiation, and negotiation priorities – and include issues relating to policy areas such as the economy, trade, energy, and investment among others.

 

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