It is easily assumed by the distinct binary logic of this result that Britain is fundamentally divided between two rival camps. One is slightly larger but nonetheless it is plausible that a public, a parliament and a nation has been effectively divided into two sides by the UK’s decision for Brexit by a slim four point lead. But what the outcome of the EU vote shows us is that far from this precise duality, the EU referendum has splintered the country into a discordant pattern of disparate politics, economics and ideology. The problem is not that Britain is now a nation of “out-ers” and “in-ers”. The UK instead is a fractious culture without those dependable coordinates of “in” and “out” to determine your political intention.
The night began with relatively high spirits for remain as Gibraltar expectedly yielded an overwhelming vote to stay with 96 per cent in support of the EU. Leave had been polling behind remain in the final polls and even the outspoken provocateur Nigel Farage had conceded at that early stage that “remain might have edged it”. Intimately connected and yet looming over the entire result process itself was the extremely volatile situation in the markets, the attention span of investors running in conjunction with the turn of the election.
Cross-party grievances below the surface of the referendum had been raging all night.
However, cause for concern emerged both in the remain Camp and the BBC studio when the leave vote was revealed to be unexpectedly high, running into a close second place with 49.3 per cent to remain’s 50.7. This unforeseen twist of fate worsened in another allegedly “safe” remain area of Swansea as leave were victorious by a four point lead in the abruptly-Eurosceptic city.
But in these jarring political times, this EU referendum was never going to be a straight-forward duel between leave and remain. Cross-party grievances below the surface of the referendum had been raging all night. Among the first counts to be called, Sunderland, a North-East Labour Party stronghold, largely defied the pro-EU campaign messages of the Labour leadership and roundly allied with leave, taking 61.3 per cent over Remain’s 38.7 per cent.
Worse was to come for both remain and the Labour Party beneath in the great divide of the Land of the Celts. Scotland had unanimously voted for remain (and its 70 per cent margins in populous cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh helped to redress the balance at crucial moments when leave was rolling forward with one victory in England after another. The real surprise of the evening was the traditionally Labour and EU-leaning Wales where, out of twenty sections voting, fifteen opted to leave including Neath Port Talbort, the constituency that contains the Tata steel plant which depends on EU funding. Another interesting result in the Welsh vote was what could be considered the most anglophile and staunchly-Conservative constituency in Wales, Monmouthshire, placing itself under a remain viewpoint out of a difference of just 0.8 points.
The supposed cause for these drawbacks, for both remain and the long-term popularity of Labour, were highlighted by senior figures, such as Chuka Umunna, as the divisive issue of immigration in the Labour Party which has managed to separate the party’s MPs onto opposite sides of the EU debate in its own right. With such Labour leavers as Gisela Stuart and Kate Hoey demanding an end to what they saw in Labour as the marginalisation of someone who is concerned about controlling immigration as a “racist”, immigration has become a major distress in the Labour Party. “Immigration trumped everything in this debate,” admitted Umunna in the BBC studio, the announcement of the leave victory imminent.
After a bruising first half of leave and remain swinging between first place, the EU results marked a half-million lead for leave. Despite remain making significant interjecting dents, with such London heavyweights as Lambeth with a convincing 78.6 per cent of the vote as well as Islington with 75.2, leave were able to sustain this lead with the consistent support of almost unlimited English constituencies. Remain’s power lay in the populous and cosmopolitan “citadels” of Scotland and London but it was the hotly-anticipated Birmingham vote that struck the final blow on a depleted vote base for remain. With the most marginal of victories for leave by 0.8 points, it was now certain that a popular brand of Euroscepticism had won with the voters in England and Wales.
Running in concurrence with the political “seismic” activity of leave is the turbulent decline of the Sterling in financial markets. At 3:56 AM, when leave was leading decisively, the Pound had dropped to levels not seen since the economic crash of 2008. Within hours of a prospective Brexit, at 4:21 AM the Pound had plummeted to 1985 levels. The economic impact is incredible. The Japanese Stock Market down by 8 per cent. General markets in Asia down by 3 per cent. The importance of this is that in just six electoral hours, the anxiety of a Brexit in international business had led Britain to determine the contours of world economy via one political choice.
But this political choice of a Brexit in this EU referendum has been kind to neither Labour nor the Conservatives. Not long after 8:00 AM, three hours after the Brexit forecast by the BBC was announced, David Cameron emerged from his post-traumatic inertia to state that he shall resign by October, by which time a new leadership candidate would be selected.
Soon after the Brexit vote, a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn was tabled, with the enthusiastic support of those on the right of the party including Ben Bradshaw and Peter Mandelson. In fact, criticism of the Labour Party has even come from Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat leader, who accused Jeremy Corbyn of “utter spinelessness” for his apparent lack of enthusiasm for a remain vote and the EU institutions. With potential leadership casualties from both major UK parties, it is clear the referendum has left a frantic array of political activity running underneath its firm duality of in or out.
the SNP have found their perfect mandate for a second independence referendum.
One political party that has benefitted from the EU referendum is the Scottish National Party. With a resounding Brexit vote from England now alienating the Scottish border even further, the SNP have found their perfect mandate for a second independence referendum. With an electorate deeply opposed to leaving the European Union, it is highly likely that a second referendum for Scotland would pass in the SNP’s favour.
Much like UKIP, the SNP are not attached to the political spectrum in a conventional sense. The SNP have lurched to the left in recent years to match the social democratic consensus in the country in order to win power. UKIP, in a similar vein in this referendum, has called towards disaffected Labour supporters to join their movements with Farage, highlighting the ignorance of the established class on the referendum night while at Leave.eu headquarters: “People don’t understand… they’re too wealthy”. The goal that unites them is independence and this EU referendum has demonstrated that the old coordinates of left and right are not relevant in today’s political landscape any longer.