Aftermath of the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016
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After the UK EU membership referendum held on 23 June 2016, in which a majority voted to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom experienced political and economic upsets, with spillover effects across the rest of the European Union and the wider world. Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for Remain, announced his resignation on 24 June, triggering a Conservative leadership election, won by Home Secretary Theresa May. Following Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn's loss of a vote of no confidence among the Parliamentary Labour Party, he also faced a leadership challenge, which he won. Nigel Farage, leader of the pro-Leave party UKIP, announced on 4 July that he would resign, having achieved his political goals. However, Farage became the party's interim leader on 5 October after its elected party leader resigned.
Political disagreement remains about several factors: the timescale for Britain's withdrawal; what terms it will negotiate; and whether Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which governs withdrawal from the European Union, must be triggered and who can trigger it. Some politicians, including Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, have suggested that a general election should be held before withdrawal is confirmed, although this would be likely to require repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.
Voting patterns in the referendum varied between areas: Gibraltar, Greater London, many other cities, Scotland and Northern Ireland had majorities for Remain; the remainder of England and Wales and most unionist parts of Northern Ireland showed Leave majorities. This fuelled concern among Scottish and Irish nationalists: the First Minister of Scotland threatened to withhold legislative consent for any withdrawal legislation and began planning for a second Scottish independence referendum, while the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland called for a referendum on a united Ireland. The status of Gibraltar and that of London were also questioned.
In late July, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee was told that Cameron had refused to allow the Civil Service to make plans for Brexit, a decision the committee described as "an act of gross negligence."
Stock markets and currencies
When the London Stock Exchange opened on Friday 24 June, the FTSE 100 fell from 6338.10 to 5806.13 in the first ten minutes of trading. It recovered to 6091.27 after a further 90 minutes before further recovering to 6162.97 by the end of the day's trading. This equated to a fall of 3% by the close of trading. When the markets reopened the following Monday, the FTSE 100 showed a steady decline, losing over 2% by mid-afternoon. Upon opening later on the Friday after the referendum, the US Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 450 points or about 2.5% in less than half an hour. The Associated Press called the sudden worldwide stock market decline a stock market crash. Internationally, more than US$2 trillion of wealth in equities markets was wiped out in the highest one-day sell-off in recorded history, in absolute terms. The stock market losses amounted to a total of 3 trillion US dollars by 27 June; up to the same date, the FTSE 100 index had lost £85 billion. Near the close of trading on 27 June, the domestically-focused FTSE 250 Index was down approximately 14% compared to the day before the referendum results were published.
However, by 1 July the FTSE 100 had risen above pre-referendum levels, to a ten-month high. Taking the previous fall into account, this represented the index's largest single-week rise since 2011. On 11 July, it officially entered bull market territory, having risen by more than 20% from its February low. The FTSE 250 moved above its pre-referendum level on 27 July. In the US, the S&P 500, a broader market than the Dow Jones, reached an all-time high on 11 July.
On the morning of 24 June, the pound sterling fell to its lowest level against the US dollar since 1985, marking the pound down 10% against the US dollar and 7% against the euro. The drop from $1.50 to $1.37 was the biggest move for the currency in any two-hour period in history. The pound remained low, and on 8 July became the worst performing currency of the year, against 31 other major currencies, performing worse than the Argentine peso, the previous lowest currency. By contrast, the pound's trade-weighted index is only back at levels seen in the period 2008–2013.
The referendum result also had an immediate economic effect on a number of other countries. The South African rand experienced its largest single-day decline since 2008, dropping in value by over 8% against the US dollar. Other countries negatively affected included Canada, whose stock exchange fell 1.70%, Nigeria, and Kenya. This was partly due to a general global financial shift out of currencies seen as risky and into the US dollar, and partly due to concerns over how the UK's withdrawal from the EU would affect the economies and trade relations of countries with close economic links to the United Kingdom.
However, by September 2016 British media had reported that ignoring so-called 'Project Fear' scaremongering had rewarded those shareholders who ignored the associated pessimism, after the FTSE250 broke all records in the months following the referendum.
Economy and business
On 27 June, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne attempted to reassure financial markets that the UK economy was not in serious trouble. This came after media reports that a survey by the Institute of Directors suggested that two-thirds of businesses believed that the outcome of the referendum would produce negative results as well as falls in the value of sterling and the FTSE 100. Some British businesses had also predicted that investment cuts, hiring freezes and redundancies would be necessary to cope with the results of the referendum. Osborne indicated that Britain was facing the future "from a position of strength" and there was no current need for an emergency Budget. "No-one should doubt our resolve to maintain the fiscal stability we have delivered for this country .... And to companies, large and small, I would say this: the British economy is fundamentally strong, highly competitive and we are open for business."
On 14 July Philip Hammond, Osborne's successor as Chancellor, told BBC News the referendum result had caused uncertainty for businesses, and that it was important to send "signals of reassurance" to encourage investment and spending. He also confirmed there would not be an emergency budget: "We will want to work closely with the governor of the Bank of England and others through the summer to prepare for the Autumn Statement, when we will signal and set out the plans for the economy going forward in what are very different circumstances that we now face, and then those plans will be implemented in the Budget in the spring in the usual way."
After the referendum, Jersey's External Relations Minister Philip Bailhache said that historically a weaker pound had brought new business to Jersey and had made it more competitive, adding that a falling pound brought more tourists from Europe as it was better value for them. US presidential candidate Donald Trump also predicted that more people would go to his refurbished golf course in Turnberry, Scotland. On 28 June, International Airlines Group said that the depreciation of the pound would boost tourist flows to Britain.
It was expected that the weaker pound would also benefit aerospace and defence firms, pharmaceutical companies, and professional services companies; the share prices of these companies were boosted after the EU referendum.
On 12 July, the global investment management company BlackRock predicted the UK would experience a recession in late 2016 or early 2017 as a result of the vote to leave the EU, and that economic growth would slow down for at least five years because of a reduction in UK investment. On 18 July, the UK-based economic forecasting group EY ITEM club suggested the country would experience a "short shallow recession" as the economy suffered "severe confidence effects on spending and business"; it also cut its economic growth forecasts for the UK from 2.6% to 0.4% in 2017, and 2.4% to 1.4% for 2018. The group's chief economic adviser, Peter Soencer, also argued there would be more long-term implications, and that the UK "may have to adjust to a permanent reduction in the size of the economy, compared to the trend that seemed possible prior to the vote". Senior City investor Richard Buxton also argued there would be a "mild recession". On 19 July, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reduced its 2017 economic growth forecast for the UK from 2.2% to 1.3%, but still expected Britain to be the second fastest growing economy in the G7 during 2016; the IMF also reduced its forecasts for world economic growth by 0.1% to 3.1% in 2016 and 3.4% in 2017, as a result of the referendum, which it said had "thrown a spanner in the works" of global recovery.
On 20 July, a report released by the Bank of England said that although uncertainty had risen "markedly" since the referendum, it was yet to see evidence of a sharp economic decline as a consequence. However, around a third of contacts surveyed for the report expected there to be "some negative impact" over the following year.
In September 2016, following three months of positive economic data after the referendum, commentators suggested that many of the negative statements and predictions promoted from within the "remain" camp had failed to materialise.
The capital requirements of our largest banks are now 10 times higher than before the financial crisis. The Bank of England has stress-tested those banks against scenarios far more severe than our country currently faces. As a result of these actions UK banks have raised over a £130bn of new capital and now have more than £600bn of high quality liquid assets. That substantial capital and huge liquidity gives banks the flexibility they need to continue to lend to UK businesses and households even during challenging times.
Moreover, as a backstop to support the functioning of the markets the Bank of England stands ready to provide more than £250bn of additional funds through its normal market operations. The Bank of England is also able to provide substantial liquidity in foreign currency if required. We expect institutions to draw on this funding if and when appropriate.
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. Her Majesty's Treasury and the Bank of England have engaged in extensive contingency planning and the chancellor and I have remained in close contact including through the night and this morning. The Bank of England will not hesitate to take additional measure as required, as markets adjust.
Nonetheless, share prices of the five largest British banks fell an average of 21% on the morning after the referendum. Shares in many other non-UK banks also fell by more than 10%. By the end of Friday's trading, both HSBC and Standard Chartered had fully recovered, while Lloyds, RBS Group and Barclays remained more than 10% down. All of the Big Three credit rating agencies reacted negatively to the vote: Standard & Poor's cut the UK credit rating from AAA to AA, Fitch Group cut from AA+ to AA, and Moody's cut the UK's outlook to "negative".
Fears of a fall in commercial property values led investors to begin redeeming investments in property funds, prompting Standard Life to bar withdrawals on 4 July, and Aviva followed suit the next day. Other investment companies including Henderson Group and M&G Investments cut the amount that investors cashing in their funds would receive. In the following weeks, the suspension of redemptions by several companies was lifted, replaced by exit penalties, and the exit penalties were successively reduced.
International Monetary Fund
In late July 2016, the IMF released a report warning that "‘Brexit’ marks the materialisation of an important downside risk to global growth," and that considering the current uncertainty as to how the UK would leave the EU, there was "still very much unfolding, more negative outcomes are a distinct possibility".
G20 Finance Ministers
Held in late July 2016 in Chengdu, China this summit of finance ministers of 20 major economies warned that the UK's planned departure from the European Union was adding to uncertainty in the global economy and urged that the UK should remain a "close partner" with the European Union to reduce turmoil. While the G20 agreed that other world factors, including terrorist acts, were creating problems, Brexit was at the forefront of their concerns.
In interviews while attending the G20 Summit, Philip Hammond, the UK's recently appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, said the country would attempt to minimise uncertainty by explaining in the near future "more clearly the kind of arrangement we envisage going forward with the European Union" in the near future. He emphasised that "the uncertainty will only end when the deal is done" but hoped that the UK and the EU would be able to announce some agreement by late 2016 as to how the exit would be staged. Hammond also reiterated previous Government comments indicating that steps would be taken to stimulate the economy including tax cuts or increased spending, though without specifics. The UK was also planning to increase bilateral trade with China, he told the BBC. "Once we are out of the European Union then I have no doubt on both sides we will want to cement that relationship into a firmer structure in a bilateral way that's appropriate."
Although he was not addressing only the UK's departure from the EU, Mark Carney, chair of the Financial Stability Board (and Governor of the Bank of England), sent a letter in late July 2016 to Finance Ministers attending the G20 Summit and to Central Bank Governors about the difficulties the global economy had weathered (including the effects of Brexit) and the steps the FSB was taking. The letter indicated that the financial system had "continued to function effectively" in spite of the "spikes in uncertainty and risk aversion", confirming that "this resilience in the face of stress demonstrates the enduring benefits of G20 post-crisis reforms." He emphasised the value of specific reforms that had been implemented by the Financial Stability Board stating that these had "dampened aftershocks from these events [world crises] rather than amplifying them". He expressed confidence in the FSB's strategies: "This resilience in the face of stress demonstrates the enduring benefits of G20 post-crisis reforms."
On 24 June, the Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he would resign by October because the Leave campaign had been successful in the referendum. Although most of the Conservative MPs on both sides of the referendum debate had urged him to stay, the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, called for Cameron to go "immediately". A leadership election was scheduled for 9 September, with the new leader to be in place before the party's autumn conference on 2 October. The two main candidates were predicted to be Boris Johnson, who had been a keen supporter of leaving the EU, and Home Secretary Theresa May, who had campaigned for Remain. The last-minute candidature by Johnson's former ally Michael Gove destabilised the race and forced Johnson to stand down; the final two candidates became May and Andrea Leadsom. Leadsom soon withdrew, leaving May as new party leader and next prime minister. She took office on 13 July.
The Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn faced growing criticism from his parliamentary party MPs, who had supported remaining within the EU, for poor campaigning, and two Labour MPs submitted a vote of no confidence in Corbyn on 24 June. It is claimed that there is evidence that Corbyn deliberately sabotaged Labour's campaign to remain part of the EU, despite remain polling favourably among Labour voters. In the early hours of Sunday 26 June, Corbyn sacked Hilary Benn (the shadow foreign secretary) for apparently leading a coup against him. This led to a string of Labour MPs quickly resigning their roles in the party. By mid-afternoon on 27 June 2016, 23 of the Labour Party's 31 shadow cabinet members had resigned from the shadow cabinet as had seven parliamentary private secretaries. On 27 June 2016, Corbyn filled some of the vacancies and was working to fill the others.
According to a source quoted by the BBC, the party's Deputy Leader Tom Watson told leader Jeremy Corbyn that "it looks like we are moving towards a leadership election." Corbyn stated that he would run again in that event. A no confidence motion was held on 28 June 2016; Corbyn lost the motion with more than 80% (172) of MPs voting against him with a turnout of 95%.
Corbyn responded with a statement that the motion had no "constitutional legitimacy" and that he intended to continue as the elected leader. The vote does not require the party to call a leadership election but, according to The Guardian: "the result is likely to lead to a direct challenge to Corbyn as some politicians scramble to collect enough nominations to trigger a formal challenge to his leadership." By 29 June, Corbyn had been encouraged to resign by Labour Party stalwarts such as Dame Tessa Jowell, Ed Miliband and Dame Margaret Beckett. Union leaders rallied behind Corbyn, issuing a joint statement saying that the Labour leader had a "resounding mandate" and a leadership election would be an "unnecessary distraction". Supporting Corbyn, John McDonnell said, "We're not going to be bullied by Labour MPs who refuse to accept democracy in our party."
On 11 July, Angela Eagle announced her campaign for the Labour party leadership after attaining enough support of MPs to trigger a leadership contest, saying that she "can provide the leadership that Corbyn can't". Eagle subsequently dropped out of the race (on 18 July) leaving Owen Smith as the only contender to Jeremy Corbyn.
Smith had supported the campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union, in the referendum on Britain's membership in June 2016. On 13 July 2016, following the vote to leave the EU, three weeks prior, he pledged that he would press for an early general election or offer a further referendum on the final 'Brexit' deal drawn up by the new Prime Minister, were he to be elected Labour leader.
Approximately two weeks later, Smith told the BBC that (in his view) those who had voted with the Leave faction had done so "because they felt a sense of loss in their communities, decline, cuts that have hammered away at vital public services and they haven't felt that any politicians, certainly not the politicians they expect to stand up for them..." His recommendation was to "put in place concrete policies that will bring real improvements to people's lives so I'm talking about a British New Deal for every part of Britain..."
The Lib Dems, who are a strongly pro-European party, announced that they respect the referendum result, but would make remaining in the EU a manifesto pledge at the next election. Leader Tim Farron said that "The British people deserve the chance not to be stuck with the appalling consequences of a leave campaign that stoked that anger with the lies of Farage, Johnson and Gove."
In reaction to the lack of unified pro-EU voice following the referendum, members of the Liberal Democrats and others discussed the launch of a new centre-left political movement. This was officially launched on 24 June as More United, named after a line in the maiden speech of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was killed during the referendum campaign. More United is a cross-party coalition, and will crowdfund candidates from any party who support its goals, which include environmentalism, a market economy with strong public services, and close co-operation with the EU.
The UK Independence Party was founded to press for British withdrawal from the EU, and following the referendum its leader Nigel Farage announced, on 4 July, that having succeeded in this goal, he would stand down as leader. Following the resignation of the elected leader Diane James, Farage became the interim party leader on 5 October.
Second general election
Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, the next general election is scheduled to be held on 7 May 2020. However, two main routes remain for an early election: a motion of no confidence in the government (should no one form a government that does win a vote of confidence within two weeks), or a supermajority of MPs' votes for an early dissolution of parliament.
Following the result of the referendum, many political commentators argued that it may be necessary to hold an early general election before negotiations to leave begin, with, for example, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg suggesting that a general election could be held in autumn 2016. The final two candidates in the Conservative Party leadership election – Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May – said they would not seek an early general election. However, after Leadsom's withdrawal and with May thus due to become Prime Minister without any broader vote, there were renewed calls for an early election from commentators and politicians. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, called for an early election shortly after Leadsom's withdrawal.
To what extent free movement of people would or would not be retained in any post-Brexit deal with the EU has emerged as a key political issue. Shortly after the result, the Conservative politician Daniel Hannan, who campaigned for Leave, told the BBC's Newsnight that Brexit was likely to change little about the freedom of movement between the UK and the European Union, concluding "We never said there was going to be some radical decline ... we want a measure of control."
Boris Johnson initially argued that restricting freedom of movement was not one of the main reasons why people have voted Leave, but his position was seen as too lax on the issue by other Conservative Party Leave supporters, which may have contributed to Michael Gove's decision to stand for the party's leadership contest. Meanwhile, EU leaders warned that full access to the single market would not be available without retaining free movement of people. While campaigning in the Conservative leadership contest, Gove pledged to end the freedom of movement accord with the EU and instead implement an Australian-style points system.
Natasha Bouchard, the Mayor of Calais, suggests that the government of France should renegotiate the Le Touquet treaty, which allows British border guards to check trains, cars and lorries before they cross the Channel from France to Britain and therefore to keep irregular immigrants away from Britain. French government officials doubt that the trilateral agreement (it includes Belgium) would be valid after the UK has officially left the European Union and especially think that it is unlikely that there will be any political motivation to enforce the agreement. However, on 1 July 2016 François Hollande said British border controls would stay in place in France, though France suggested during the referendum campaign they would be scrapped allowing migrants in the "Jungle" camp easy access to Kent.
Status of current EU immigrants and British emigrants
According to the most recent figures, there were 2–3 million EU citizens (including Irish and Commonwealth) living in the UK, and around 1.2 million British citizens living in other EU countries. The status of both groups of people has come into question following the result.
Theresa May, when candidate for Conservative leader, suggested that the status of EU immigrants currently in the UK could be used in negotiations with other European countries, with the possibility of expelling these people if the EU does not offer favourable exit terms. This position has been strongly rejected by other politicians from both Remain and Leave campaigns. In response to a question by Labour Leave campaigner Gisela Stuart, the Minister for Security and Immigration James Brokenshire said that the Government was unable to make any promises about the status of EU citizens in the UK before the government had set out negotiating positions, and that it would seek reciprocal protection for UK citizens in EU countries.
The Vice-Chancellor of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, announced that the country would consider easing citizenship requirements for British nationals currently in Germany, to protect their status. The foreign ministry of Ireland stated that the number of applications from UK citizens for Irish passports increased significantly after the announcement of the result of the referendum on the membership in the European Union. The Irish Embassy in London usually receives 200 passport applications a day, which increased to 4,000 a day after the vote to leave. Other EU nations also had increases in requests for passports from British citizens, including France and Belgium.
On 24 June 2016, Senior Trade Campaigner of War on Want Mark Dearn said that leaving the EU created the potential for greater democratic control of trade deals, and pointed out that after leaving the EU, Britain would be shorn of trade deals including Britain's World Trade Organization commitments, and trade would be front and centre of new policy-making for the foreseeable future. Dearn argued that although Britain escaped the provisions of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as an EU member country, TTIP could still affect Britain as the European Commission and the world's biggest corporations aimed to force third countries to accept TTIP's provisions: a TTIP tribunal system, the privatisation of public services, and the eradication of social, health and environmental protections.
Cornwall voted to leave the EU but Cornwall Council issued a plea for protection of its local economy and to continue receiving subsidies as it had received millions of pounds in subsidies from the EU.
After the referendum leading scientists announced that they were afraid of a shortfall of funding for research and science and that the UK had become less attractive for scientists. The UK science minister, Jo Johnson said the government would be on the watch for discrimination against UK scientists, after stories where such scientists had been left out from joint grant proposals with other EU scientists in the aftermath of the referendum. On the 15th August 2016, ministers announced that research funding would be matched by the UK government.
Republic of Ireland–United Kingdom border
The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are members of the Common Travel Area, which allows free movement between these countries. If the UK negotiates a settlement with the EU that does not involve Freedom of Movement, while the Republic of Ireland remains an EU member, an open border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is likely to become untenable. Martin McGuinness, deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, said this would "seriously undermine" the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to the Troubles. David Cameron pledged to do whatever possible to maintain the open border. Since becoming Prime Minister Theresa May has reassured both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that there will not be a "hard (customs or immigration) border" on the island of Ireland.
Notification of intention to leave the EU (Article 50)
The most likely way that exit from the EU is activated is through Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. The British government chooses when to invoke, although theoretically the other members of the European Union could refuse to negotiate before invocation. This will be the first time that this article has been invoked. The government can theoretically ignore the result of the referendum.
Although Cameron had previously announced that he would invoke Article 50 on the morning after a Leave vote, he declared during his resignation that the next Prime Minister should activate Article 50 and begin negotiations with the EU. During the Conservative leadership contest, Theresa May expressed that the UK needs a clear negotiating position before triggering Article 50, and that she would not do so in 2016. The other 27 members of the EU issued a joint statement on 26 June 2016 regretting but respecting Britain's decision and asking them to proceed quickly in accordance with Article 50. This was echoed by the EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. However, with the next French presidential election being held in April and May 2017, and the next German federal election likely to be held in autumn 2017, "people close to the E.U. Commission" were reported as saying that the European Commission is currently working under the assumption that Article 50 notification will not be made before September 2017.
On 27 June a "Brexit unit" of civil servants were tasked with "intensive work on the issues that will need to be worked through in order to present options and advice to a new Prime Minister and a new Cabinet", while on 14 July, David Davis was appointed to the newly created post of Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, or "Brexit Secretary", with a remit to oversee the UK's negotiations for withdrawing from the EU. Davis called for a "brisk but measured" approach to negotiations, and suggested the UK should be ready to trigger Article 50 "before or by the start of" 2017, saying "the first order of business" should be to negotiate trade deals with countries outside the European Union. However, Oliver Letwin, a former Minister of State for Europe, warned the UK had no trade negotiators to lead such talks. Having previously ruled out starting the Article 50 process before 2017, On 15 July, following a meeting with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, May said that it would not begin without a coherent "UK approach" to negotiations. Lawyers representing the government in a legal challenge over the Article 50 process said that May would not trigger Article 50 before 2017. However in September 2016, The Washington Post highlighted the lack of coherent strategy following what it described as the "hurricane-strength political wreckage" left by the Brexit vote. It said the public still had no idea what the oft repeated "Brexit means Brexit" meant and there have been nearly as many statements on what the objectives were as there are cabinet ministers.
There is dispute over whether the decision to invoke Article 50 is the prerogative of the government, as the government argues, or whether it requires Parliamentary assent. However, Parliament will be able to vote on any new treaty arrangements that emerge from the withdrawal deal, and would have to legislate to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. On 3 July 2016, the law firm Mishcon de Reya announced that they had been retained by a group of clients to challenge the constitutionality of invoking Article 50 without parliament debating it. The High Court began hearing the first legal arguments over the Article 50 process on 19 July, with a full hearing scheduled to take place before Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice, in October.
It is also unclear to what extent the devolved Northern Ireland Executive, Scottish Government and Welsh Government will have to be involved in the process; Nicola Sturgeon has said that the Scottish Parliament will not give legislative assent to any act to implement withdrawal from the EU. Government lawyers for the group headed by Oliver Letwin have advised that invoking Article 50 is a government prerogative, but that repeal of the European Communities Act by Parliament is a prerequisite and therefore the legislature is de facto involved.
On 20 July 2016, following her first overseas trip as prime minister, during which she flew to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Theresa May reaffirmed her intention not to trigger Article 50 before 2017, suggesting it would take time for the UK to negotiate a "sensible and orderly departure" from the EU. However, although Merkel said it was right for the UK to "take a moment" before beginning the process, she urged May to provide more clarity on a timetable for negotiations. Shortly before travelling to Berlin, May had also announced that in the wake of the referendum, Britain would relinquish the presidency of the Council of the European Union, which passes between member states every six months on a rotation basis, and that the UK had been scheduled to hold in the second half of 2017.
Geographical variations within the UK, and implications
The distribution of Remain and Leave votes varied dramatically across the country. Remain won every single Scottish district, most London boroughs, Gibraltar and the predominantly Catholic parts of Northern Ireland, as well as many English and Welsh cities. Leave by contrast won almost all other English and Welsh districts and most of the predominantly Ulster Protestant districts, and won a majority in Wales as a whole as well as every English region outside London. These results were interpreted by many commentators as revealing a "split" or "divided" country, and exacerbated regional tensions. Following the referendum result the all-party Constitution Reform Group announced its intention to publish a draft Act of Union bill outlining a proposed federal constitutional structure for the United Kingdom. Among its proposals are the establishment of an English Parliament, replacing the House of Lords with a directly elected chamber, and greater devolution for the English regions, following a similar format to that of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was "clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union" and that Scotland had "spoken decisively" with a "strong, unequivocal" vote to remain in the European Union. The Scottish Government announced on 24 June 2016 that officials would plan for a "highly likely" second referendum on independence from the United Kingdom and start preparing legislation to that effect. Former First Minister Alex Salmond said the vote was a "significant and material change" in Scotland's position within the United Kingdom, and that he was certain his party would implement its manifesto on holding a second referendum. Sturgeon said she will communicate to all EU member states that "Scotland has voted to stay in the EU and I intend to discuss all options for doing so." An emergency cabinet meeting on 25 June 2016 agreed that the Scottish Government would "begin immediate discussions with the EU institutions and other member states to explore all the possible options to protect Scotland's place in the EU."
On 26 June, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC that Scotland could attempt to refuse legislative consent for the UK's exit from the European Union, and on 28 June, established a "standing council" of experts to advise her on how to protect Scotland's relationship with the EU. On the same day she made the following statement: "I want to be clear to parliament that whilst I believe that independence is the best option for Scotland – I don’t think that will come as a surprise to anyone – it is not my starting point in these discussions. My starting point is to protect our relationship with the EU." Sturgeon met with EU leaders in Brussels the next day to discuss Scotland remaining in the EU. Afterwards, she said the reception had been "sympathetic", in spite of France and Spain objecting to negotiations with Scotland, but conceded that she did not underestimate the challenges.
Also on 28 June, Scottish MEP Alyn Smith received standing ovations from the European Parliament for a speech ending "Scotland did not let you down, do not let Scotland down." Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People's Party Group and a key ally of Angela Merkel, said Scotland would be welcome to remain a member of the EU. In an earlier Welt am Sonntag interview, Gunther Krichbaum, chairman of the Bundestag's European affairs committee, stated that "the EU will still consist of 28 member states, as I expect a new independence referendum in Scotland, which will then be successful," and urged to "respond quickly to an application for admission from the EU-friendly country."
In a note to the US bank's clients, JP Morgan Senior Western Europe economist Malcolm Barr wrote: "Our base case is that Scotland will vote for independence and institute a new currency" by 2019.
On 15 July, following her first official talks with Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House, Theresa May said that she was "willing to listen to options" on Scotland's future relationship with the European Union and wanted the Scottish government to be "fully involved" with discussions, but that Scotland had sent a "very clear message" on independence in 2014. Sturgeon said she was "very pleased" that May would listen to the Scottish Government, but that it would be "completely wrong" to block a referendum if it was wanted by the people of Scotland. Two days later, Sturgeon told the BBC that she would consider holding a referendum for 2017 if the UK began the process of exiting the European Union without Scotland's future being secured. She also suggested it may be possible for Scotland to remain part of the UK while also remaining part of the EU. However, on 20 July, this idea was dismissed by Attorney General Jeremy Wright, who told the House of Commons that no part of the UK had a veto over the Article 50 process.
A referendum on Irish unification has been advocated by Sinn Féin, the largest nationalist/republican party in Ireland, which is represented both in the Northern Ireland Assembly and Dáil Éireann in the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland's deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin, called for a referendum on the subject following the UK's vote to leave the EU because the majority of the Northern Irish population voted to remain. The First Minister, Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party, said that Northern Ireland's status remained secure and that the vote had strengthened the union within the United Kingdom. This was echoed by DUP MLA Ian Paisley Jr., who nevertheless recommended that constituents apply for an Irish passport to retain EU rights.
Although Wales voted to leave the European Union, Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru suggested that the result had "changed everything" and that it was time to begin a debate about independence for Wales. Sources including The Guardian have noted that opinion polls tend to put the number in favour of Wales seceding from the United Kingdom at 10%, but Wood suggested in a speech shortly after the referendum that attitudes could change following the result: "The Welsh economy and our constitution face unprecedented challenges. We must explore options that haven’t been properly debated until now." On 5 July, a YouGov opinion poll commissioned by ITV Wales indicated that 35% would vote in favour of Welsh independence in the event that it meant Wales could stay in the European Union, but Professor Roger Scully, of Cardiff University's Wales Governance Centre said the poll indicated a "clear majority" against Wales ceasing to be part of the UK: “The overall message appears to be that while Brexit might reopen the discussion on Welsh independence there is little sign that the Leave vote in the EU referendum has yet inclined growing numbers of people to vote Leave in a referendum on Welsh independence from the UK."
London and Greater London
London and Greater London voted to remain in the EU, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she had spoken to London Mayor Sadiq Khan about the possibility of remaining in the EU and said he shared that objective for London. A petition calling on Khan to declare London independent from the UK received tens of thousands of signatures. Supporters of London's independence argued that London's demographic, culture and values are different from the rest of England, and that it should become a city state similar to Singapore, while remaining an EU member state. Spencer Livermore, Baron Livermore, said that London's independence "should be a goal," arguing that a London city-state would have twice the GDP of Singapore.
Spain's foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo said "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-sovereignity – to be clear, the Spanish flag on the Rock – is much closer than before." Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo however immediately dismissed García-Margallo's remarks, stating that "there will be no talks, or even talks about talks, about the sovereignty of Gibraltar", and asked Gibraltar's citizens "to ignore these noises". This is while he was in talks with Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, to keep Gibraltar in the EU, while remaining British too. He said that "I can imagine a situation where some parts of what is today the member state United Kingdom are stripped out and others remain." Nicola Sturgeon said on the same day that talks were under way with Gibraltar to build a "common cause" on EU membership.
Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland, which shares a land border with the United Kingdom, joined the European Economic Community alongside its neighbour in 1973, and as of 2016, its trade with the UK was worth £840m (€1bn) a week, while as many as 380,000 Irish citizens were employed in the UK. Britain was also a significant contributor towards the 2010 bailout package that was put together in the wake of the banking crisis of the late 2000s. Concerned by the possibility of a UK vote to leave the EU, in 2015, Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach of Ireland, established an office to put together a contingency plan in the event of a Brexit vote.
On 18 July 2016, Bloomberg News reported that the UK's vote to leave the EU was having a negative impact on the Republic of Ireland, a country with close economic and cultural ties to the UK. Share prices in Ireland fell after the result, while exporters warned that a weaker UK currency would drive down wages and economic growth in a country still recovering from the effects of the banking crisis. John Bruton, who served as Taoiseach from 1994 to 1997, and later an EU ambassador to the United States, described Britain's vote to leave the European Union as "the most serious, difficult issue facing the country for 50 years". Nick Ashmore, head of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland argued the uncertainty caused by the result had made attracting new business lenders into Ireland more difficult. However, John McGrane, director general of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, said the organisation had been inundated with enquiries from UK firms wishing to explore the feasibility of basing themselves in a country "with the same language and legal system and with a commitment to staying in the EU".
On 21 July, following talks in Dublin, Kenny and French President Francois Hollande issued a joint statement saying they "looked forward to the notification as soon as possible by the new British government of the UK's intention to withdraw from the Union" because it would "permit orderly negotiations to begin". Hollande also suggested Ireland should secure a "special situation" in discussions with European leaders during the UK's European withdrawal negotiations.
Racist abuse and hate crimes
More than a hundred racist abuse and hate crimes were reported in the immediate aftermath of the referendum with many citing the plan to leave the European Union, with police saying there had been a five-fold increase since the vote. On 24 June, a school in Cambridgeshire was vandalised with a sign reading "Leave the EU. No more Polish vermin." Following the referendum result, similar signs were distributed outside homes and schools in Huntingdon, with some left on the cars of Polish residents collecting their children from school. On 26 June, the London office of the Polish Social and Cultural Association was vandalised with racist graffiti. Both incidents were investigated by the police. In Wales, a Muslim woman was told to leave after the referendum, even though she had been born and raised in the United Kingdom. Other instances of racism occurred as perceived foreigners were targeted in supermarkets, on buses and on street corners, and told to leave the country immediately. The hate crimes were widely condemned by politicians and religious groups.
On 8 July, figures released by the National Police Chiefs' Council indicated there were 3,076 reported hate crimes and incidents across England, Wales and Northern Ireland between 16–30 June, compared to 2,161 for the same period in 2015, a 42% increase; the number of incidents peaked on 25 June, when there were 289 reported cases. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, the council's lead on hate crime, described the "sharp rise" as unacceptable.
Petition for a new referendum
Within hours of the result's announcement, a petition, calling for a second referendum to be held in the event that a result was secured with less than 60% of the vote and on a turnout of less than 75%, attracted tens of thousands of new signatures. The petition had been initiated by William Oliver Healey of the English Democrats on 24 May 2016, when the Remain faction had been leading in the polls, and had received 22 signatures prior to the referendum result being declared. On 26 June, Healey made it clear on his Facebook page that the petition had actually been started to favour an exit from the EU and that he was a strong supporter of the Vote Leave and Grassroots Out campaigns. Healey also claimed that the petition had been "hijacked by the remain campaign". English Democrats chairman Robin Tilbrook suggested those who had signed the petition were experiencing "sour grapes" about the result of the referendum.
By late July it had attracted over 4 million signatures, about one quarter of the total number of remain votes in the referendum and over forty times the 100,000 needed for any petition to be considered for debate in Parliament. As many as a thousand signatures per minute were being added during the day after the referendum vote, causing the website to crash on several occasions. Some of the signatories had abstained from voting or had voted leave but regretted their decision, in what the media dubbed "bregret", or "regrexit" at the result.
No previous government petition had attracted as many signatures, but it was reported that the House of Commons Petitions Committee were investigating allegations of fraud. Chair of that committee, Helen Jones, said that the allegations were being taken seriously, and any signatures found to be fraudulent would be removed from the petition: "People adding fraudulent signatures to this petition should know that they undermine the cause they pretend to support." By the afternoon of 26 June the House of Commons' petitions committee said that it had removed "about 77,000 signatures which were added fraudulently" and that it would continue to monitor the petition for "suspicious activity"; almost 40,000 signatures seemed to have come from the Vatican City, which has a population of under 1,000. Hackers from 4chan claimed that they had added the signatures with the use of automated bots, and that it was done as a prank.
On 8 July, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sent an email to all signatories of the petition setting out the government's position. It rejected calls for a second referendum: "Prime Minister and Government have been clear that this was a once in a generation vote and, as the Prime Minister has said, the decision must be respected." On 12 July the Committee scheduled a debate on the petition for 5 September because of the "huge number" of people who had signed it, but stressed that this did not mean it was backing calls for a second referendum. The debate, held in Westminster Hall, the House of Commons' second chamber, does not have the power to change the law; a spokesman for the Committee said that the debate would not pave the way for Parliament to decide on holding a second referendum. The petition closed on 26 November 2016, having received 4,150,259 signatures.
Debate over legitimacy of a second referendum
The petition initiated a debate over the legitimacy of holding a second referendum. BBC political correspondent Iain Watson argued that since the petition requests a piece of retrospective legislation, it is unlikely to be enacted, while David Cameron had previously ruled out holding a second referendum, calling it "a once-in-a-lifetime event". However, Jolyon Maughan QC, a barrister specialising in tax law, argued that a second referendum on EU membership could be triggered by one of two scenarios: following a snap general election won by one or more parties standing on a remain platform, or as a result of parliament deciding that circumstances had changed significantly enough to require a fresh mandate. Maughan cited several instances in which a country's electorate have been asked to reconsider the outcome of a referendum relating to the EU, among them the two Treaty of Lisbon referendums held in Ireland, in 2008 and 2009.
Historian Vernon Bogdanor said that a second referendum would be "highly unlikely", and suggested governments would be cautious about holding referendums in future, but argued it could happen if the EU rethought some of its policies, such as those regarding the free movement of workers. Political scientist John Curtice agreed that a change of circumstances could result in another referendum, but said the petition would have little effect. BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman argued that a second referendum was "constitutionally possible [but] politically unthinkable. It would take something akin to a revolution and full-blown constitutional crisis for it to happen". Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, a former Attorney General for England and Wales said that although the government should respect the result of the referendum, "it is of course possible that it will become apparent with the passage of time that public opinion has shifted on the matter. If so a second referendum may be justified." Barristers Belinda McRae and Andrew Lodder argued the referendum "is wrongly being treated as a majority vote for the terms of exit that Britain can negotiate [with] the EU" when the public were not asked about the terms of exiting the EU, so a second referendum would be needed on that issue. Richard Dawkins argued that if a second referendum upheld the result of the first, it would "unite the country behind Brexit". However, political scientist Liubomir K. Topaloff argued that a second referendum would "surely destroy the EU" because the resulting anger of Leave supporters in the UK would spread anti-EU sentiment in other countries.
On 26 June, former Prime Minister Tony Blair said the option of holding a second referendum should not be ruled out. A week later he suggested the will of the people could change, and that Parliament should reflect that. Alastair Campbell, the Downing Street Director of Communications under Blair called for a second referendum setting out "the terms on which we leave. And the terms on which we could remain". Labour MP David Lammy commented that, as the referendum was advisory, Parliament should vote on whether to leave the EU. On 1 July, Shadow chancellor John McDonnell outlined Labour's vision for leaving the EU, saying that Britain had to respect the decision that was made in the referendum.
Following the first post-referendum meeting of the Cabinet on 27 June, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said that the possibility of a second referendum was "not remotely on the cards. There was a decisive result [in the EU referendum]. The focus of the Cabinet discussion was how we get on and deliver that." Theresa May also ruled out the possibility at the launch of her campaign to succeed Cameron. On 28 June, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt raised the possibility of a second referendum, but said that it would be about the terms of the UK's exit from the European Union rather than on the issue of EU membership. Labour MP Geraint Davies also suggested that a second referendum would focus on the terms of an exit plan, with a default of remaining in the EU if it were rejected. Citing a poll published in the week after the referendum that indicated as many as 1.1 million people who voted to leave the EU regretted their decision, he tabled an early day motion calling for an exit package referendum.
On 26 June it was reported that Conservative grandee Michael Heseltine was suggesting that a second referendum should take place after Brexit negotiations, pointing to the overwhelming majority in the House of Commons against leaving the EU. On 13 July, Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith said that he would offer a second referendum on the terms of EU withdrawal if elected to lead the party.
The outcome of the referendum was debated by the Church of England's General Synod on 8 July, where Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby ruled out supporting a second referendum. The idea of a second referendum was also rejected by Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, who favoured a general election following negotiations instead. Sammy Wilson, a Democratic Unionist Party MP likened those calling for a second referendum to fascists, saying "They don't wish to have the democratic wishes of the people honoured... They wish to have only their views."
On 2 July, a YouGov poll indicated a slim majority against a second referendum. On 8 July, an ORB poll indicated 40% support for a referendum on the terms of withdrawal from the EU. On 16 July, a ComRes poll indicated 57% opposed to a second referendum, with 29% in favour.
Pro-EU demonstrations took place in the days following the referendum result. On 24 June, protesters gathered in cities across the UK, including London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. At one demonstration in London protesters marched on the headquarters of News UK to protest against "anti-immigration politics". Protesters on bicycles angry at the result attempted to block Boris Johnson's car as he was leaving his home on the morning of 24 June, while campaigners aged 18–25, as well as some teenagers under the age of majority, staged a protest outside Parliament.
On 28 June, up to 50,000 people attended Stand Together, a pro-EU demonstration organised for London's Trafalgar Square, despite the event having been officially cancelled amid safety concerns. The organiser had announced the rally on social media, with a view to bringing "20 friends together", but urged people not to attend as the number of people expressing interest reached 50,000. The meeting was addressed by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron before protesters made their way to Whitehall. A similar event in Cardiff was addressed by speakers including Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood. On 2 July, around 50,000 demonstrators marched in London to show support for the EU and to demand that Britain continues to co-operate with other European states. A similar event was held in Edinburgh outside the Scottish Parliament building.
On 8 July, and in response to the referendum result, The New European, was launched with an initial print run of 200,000. This is a national weekly newspaper aimed at people who voted to remain in the EU, which its editor felt had not been represented by the traditional media.
- United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016
- United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union
- International reactions to the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016
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We now expect the United Kingdom government to give effect to this decision of the British people as soon as possible, however painful that process may be.
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