British Voters Opt To Leave European Union
June 24, 2016
The United Kingdom's Electoral Commission has officially declared that British voters have opted to leave the European Union.
Results from Britain's nationwide referendum show that Britons voted to leave the European Union by 52 percent to 48 -- a margin of more than 1 million votes.
U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who had campaigned for the "leave" vote, said that "the dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom!"
Farage also called for British Prime Minister David Cameron to step down. Cameron had sought strenuously to persuade voters to remain in the EU.
An aide to Cameron told Reuters that the results have sent Britain into "uncharted territory."
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain now needs continuity and stability.
Hammond said the results will also reopen the question for some about whether Scotland should seek independence from the United Kingdom.
Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU.
Most cities in northeastern England returned large majorities for the "leave" side, while London voted strongly to remain.
The vote has raised fears that a "Brexit" could spur calls for similar referendums across the EU, where independence movements are on the rise.
'Major Damage To Both Sides'
European Council President Donald Tusk said on June 24 that Europe should "start a wider reflection of the future of our union."
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Europe will continue in the wake of Britain's decision but it was "urgent" for Europe to "react and regain the trust of the people."
Ayrault also expressed "sadness for the United Kingdom."
In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier responded to the news on June 24 by saying Britain's vote to leave the EU was "a sad day for Europe and Britain."
A German Foreign Ministry statement quoted Steinmeier as saying that the news from Britain was "really sobering."
The White House said early on June 24 that President Barack Obama was informed about the incoming returns, and that he expected to have a chance to speak with Cameron over the course of the next day.
EU lawmaker Manfred Weber of the European People's Party, the largest in the European Parliament, said Britain's decision to leave the EU "causes major damage to both sides."
Weber called for the decision to be quickly implemented.
The referendum was set up as an advisory vote that was legally nonbinding.
There was no mandatory trigger mechanism that would automatically invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal device that formally sets the exit process into motion.
But political analysts say that with such a wide margin of support for the "leave" campaign, and with voter turnout of 72 percent, there is now significant pressure on British politicians to formally begin the two-year process of negotiations for leaving the 28-member bloc.
Pound, World Markets Crash
News of the referendum results also had immediate and far-reaching effects on financial markets.
Britain's pound sterling currency fell to a level of $1.35 against the U.S. dollar -- a 31-year low just one day after it hit a 2016 high of $1.50.
The Bank of England said it was monitoring developments closely, suggesting it would take necessary steps to support the currency.
Asian stocks plummeted on the news, falling by as much as 7 percent in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Sydney and elsewhere.
Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said he was "extremely concerned about risks" that would be caused "to the world economy and global financial markets."
Futures markets pointed to steep falls of up to 7.5 percent on European exchanges and 5 percent on U.S. exchanges at the open of trading on June 24.
The Financial Times of London quoted the chief ratings officers for Standard and Poor's as saying on June 24 that Britain's "AAA" credit rating was "untenable under the circumstances."
Standard and Poor's previously said its top-notch rating for Britain was based on the assumption that the referendum would have delivered a vote to remain in the EU.
Rival ratings agencies Fitch and Moody's had downgraded their AAA ratings for Britain before the referendum campaign began.
With reporting by BBC, AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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