Live Coverage: E.U. Referendum: Britain Votes to Leave
Britain’s stunning vote to leave the European Union presents a political, economic and existential crisis for the bloc. But the message is hardly limited to Britain. The same yawning gap between the elite and mass opinion is fueling a populist backlash in Austria, France, Germany and elsewhere on the Continent — as well as in the United States.
The far-right National Front in France reacted with jubilation on Friday to the British vote to leave the European Union, proclaiming a “new Europe,” in the words of its leader, Marine Le Pen, and vowing to push for a similar referendum in France.
Her party is easily the country’s biggest winner from the outcome, certain to use the vote on Thursday as fuel in its 2017 presidential campaign.
The National Front has poured scorn on Brussels for years, depicting it as a bureaucratic monster trampling on French liberties. That idea has been a big vote-getter, and it is likely to be an even bigger one now.
Ms. Le Pen was quick on Friday to seize on the issue of a European Union referendum as her own.
“I’ve been calling for this same referendum since 2013,” she said at a news conference at party headquarters outside Paris, a slight smile of satisfaction on her face. “This referendum in France is a democratic necessity.”
“The French should be able to choose also,” Ms. Le Pen continued. “It’s a new Europe that will emerge, the Europe of nations. For all patriots this a day of joy, it is nations that will be reborn.”
For the country’s mainstream politicians, the British vote was a shock.
President François Hollande said it “puts the E.U. to a severe test,” calling it a “painful choice.”
Prime Minister Manuel Valls called it “an electroshock.”
Speaking from the Élysée Palace late in the morning, Mr. Hollande said: “The British decision forces us to lucidly recognize Europe’s inadequacies. There is an immense danger in the face of populism and extremism.”
Both Mr. Hollande and Mr. Valls called for new thinking on Europe, “a profound change,” as Mr. Hollande put it, notably in the area that has most benefited France’s far right: borders and immigration.
Recognizing its electoral potency, that subject was the first mentioned by Mr. Hollande in his short laundry list of urgent to-do projects for Europe. He called for “the security and defense of our Continent, to protect our frontiers.”
Ms. Le Pen’s likely opponent in a second round of presidential voting next year is the mainstream right mayor of Bordeaux, Alain Juppé. He immediately cautioned against holding a similar referendum in France, saying it would be “offering victory on a platter to Marine Le Pen.”
But his words also betrayed a fear in France’s political establishment: that the French are as disenchanted with Europe as the English, and that they might vote the same way if the question was put to the test.
Reaction to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union continued to flood in from European leaders on Friday:
Europe’s significance and position in the world will be less important.
— Christian Kern, chancellor of Austria
One must do everything to prevent other countries from leaving.
— Andrzej Duda, president of Poland
This decision is serious and irreversible.
— Bohuslav Sobotka, prime minister of the Czech Republic
It’s not a tragedy, it’s a reality. It’s a reality that the remaining 27 EU countries will have to react to very quickly.
— Robert Fico, prime minister of Slovakia, which takes over the rotating president of the European Council on July 1
#Brexit: respect, regret, re-engage
— Dalia Grybauskaite, president of Lithuania, on Twitter.
As Britain woke up on Friday to the news that it had voted to leave the European Union, reactions from celebrities began to pour in on social media.
Hundreds of celebrities had voiced their stance before the referendum, with many prominent ones voicing support for staying in the bloc.
In the wake of the vote, J. K. Rowling sent a flurry of tweets reiterating her support for the union and expressing disappointment on the vote.
The “House” and “Veep” star Hugh Laurie joked about the possibility of another referendum.
James Corden, a London native who now hosts “The Late Late Show” in New York, voiced his discouragement.
Jan Böhmermann, a contentious German comedian who was recently the subject of an international controversy when the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called for him to be prosecuted for a poem that poked fun at him, sent a series of provocative tweets in German and English.
“Oh, let them all scurry out of the EU,” he wrote in German. “Then we Germans can unite Europe again ourselves, like before.”
Stars expressing satisfaction with the results were fewer, but some did. After the results were clear Friday morning, Elizabeth Hurley, a supporter of an exit, tweeted a picture of the sun peeking through clouds.
Today marks a turning point for Europe. It is a turning point for the European unification process.
— Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany
The British referendum, like most 21st-century political campaigns, would not have been complete without both sides battling it out on social media.
On platforms like Twitter and Instagram, the rival campaigns bombarded people with slick videos, often produced by some of Britain’s best-known advertising agencies. And like their counterparts in the United States, British politicians tapped into the trove of data available through sites like Facebook and YouTube with targeted advertising (for example, aimed at young mothers or elderly voters).
But not all of these efforts were successful.
When the campaign to remain in the European Union released a barrage of social media posts aimed at young voters, many quickly voiced their opposition. The complaint? The ads, which tried to mimic how young British people talk by dropping the “g” at the end of words (such as: “Workin’ ” and “Earnin’ “), were — to echo the poorly received campaign — condescendin’.
The campaign to leave the bloc also misfired. Only a day after the shooting in Orlando, Fla., a group released a photograph on Twitter saying “act now before we see an Orlando-style atrocity here before too long.” The tweet was quickly deleted, and leading politicians supporting an exit distanced themselves from the post.
So who won hearts and minds on social media?
Vyacheslav W. Polonski, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, part of the University of Oxford, said the campaign to leave had routinely outmuscled its rival, with more vocal and active supporters across almost all social media platforms.
Although Britain has voted itself out of the European Union, there will be no immediate change.
Instead, the process of decoupling will begin only when the British government chooses to invoke a previously unused provision of the bloc’s governing treaty, known as Article 50, that sets out the basics of the withdrawal process.
It is up to the British government when to invoke Article 50, and on Friday, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “A negotiation with the European Union will need to begin under a new prime minister, and I think it is right that this new prime minister takes the decision about when to trigger Article 50 and start the formal and legal process of leaving the E.U.”
To further muddy the waters, Mr. Cameron has announced that he will resign, and the British government is not even bound by the result of the referendum. A report for the Constitution Society said, “The government could, in strict law, choose to ignore it.”
Whatever the British may think of the Germans, they like their cars. Britain imports more products from Germany than any other country — not just BMWs, Mercedes and Volkswagens but also machinery and parts. Ford and General Motors also produce cars in Germany that are popular in Britain.
Britain is also one of Germany’s most important markets, ranking just behind the United States and France as a destination for German exports. Meanwhile, London has long been Germany’s de facto financial capital. Deutsche Bank, based in Frankfurt, uses London as a headquarters for its investment banking and trading operations, and when the London Stock Exchange and Deutsche Börse complete their merger — which they say they are still on track to do — they will base the combined company in Britain.
As a result, the reaction to the vote in Germany was overwhelmingly negative. The blue-chip DAX stock market index slumped 8 percent, with declines of more than 10 percent for shares of BMW, Volkswagen and Daimler, the maker of Mercedes.
I’m afraid that this is not such a good day for Europe. At this stage, we cannot fully foresee the consequences, but there’s no doubt that they will be negative on all sides.
— John Cryan, chief executive of Deutsche Bank
The price of ‘Brexit’ will be a deep loss of trust in Europe as a business location. It will not take long before our machinery exports to Britain suffer a noticeable fall. It’s completely unclear what the consequences will be for companies with British subsidiaries.
— Thilo Brodtmann, managing director of the German Engineering Federation, which represents machinery makers
BMW Group respects the British electorate’s decision to leave the E.U. While it is clear there will now be a period of uncertainty, there will be no immediate change to our operations in the U.K. Today, we know that many of the relevant conditions for supplying the European market will have to be renegotiated, but of course, we cannot say what this means for our U.K. operations until those future regulatory and legislative arrangements are agreed.
— BMW company statement
Today is a deep and difficult setback. Europe’s face is changing and it comes out of this vote weaker. The European Union is losing an important member, whose warnings against too much bureaucracy and its advocacy for moderate regulation will be missed.
— Gunter Dunkel, president of the Association of German Public Banks
In the short term, I expect major turmoil on financial markets, and in the mid-term a substantial cooling down of the world economy. A renewed outbreak of the financial crisis as a result of turmoil in the banking sector is also probable.
— Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin
The London Stock Exchange Group and Deutsche Börse said on Friday that they would continue with their merger despite Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
The exchange operators agreed in March to merge in an all-stock deal that they hoped would create a European champion.
The companies had said that an exit by Britain would not change the deal but could “well affect the volume or nature” of business carried out by the combined company.
“The boards believe that the outcome of the referendum does not impact the compelling strategic rationale of the merger,” the companies said in a news release on Friday.
The combined company would have headquarters in London and Frankfurt, the home of Deutsche Börse. The holding company for the exchanges would be based in Britain.
But some investors have expressed concern in recent weeks about the plan to base the combined business in Britain, as polls showed there was an increased likelihood of a vote in favor of Britain leaving the European Union.
London Stock Exchange Group shareholders are expected to vote on July 4 on whether to approve the deal. Deutsche Börse investors have until July 12 to accept an offer to exchange their Deutsche Börse stock for shares in the combined entity’s new holding company.
“The decision of the U.K. to leave the E.U. makes it ever more important to maintain and foster ties between the U.K. and Europe,” said Joachim Faber, the Deutsche Börse chairman.
The companies said they were still in discussions with the British and German governments and regulators about the merger.
Whether by chance or not, Donald J. Trump arrived at his golf resort in Scotland just as the news of Britain’s exit from the European Union was breaking.
Unaware or unconcerned that Scots had voted overwhelmingly to stay in the bloc, Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, made little effort to contain his enthusiasm.
“I think it’s a great thing that happened,” he said as he disembarked from his helicopter, called “G-TRMP,” at the resort, Trump Turnberry, to cheers and applause from his local Turnberry staff members, all clad in red “Make Turnberry Great Again” hats.
Asked why he thought British voters rejected the bloc, he said: “Basically they took back their country. That’s a good thing.”
Mr. Trump, who vaulted to the Republican nomination on the strength of strong anti-immigrant views, then issued a warning.
“People are angry, all over the world people, they’re angry,” he said. “They’re angry over borders, they’re angry over people coming into the country and taking over, nobody even knows who they are. They’re angry about many, many things.”
Asked where the anger is, he said: “U.K. U.S. There’s plenty of other places. This will not be the last.”
Mr. Trump, who was sharply criticized for seeming to take credit for “being right” about terrorism after the Orlando, Fla., mass shooting, put in a small personal claim for the referendum vote, as well.
“I said this was going to happen,” he said.
I believe that Britain is better off within the European Union, but the British people have clearly spoken today, and their democratic will must now be fulfilled.
— Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London
In his statement, Mr. Khan also said he agreed with Prime Minister David Cameron that Britain can “survive and prosper” outside the European Union, and he told the British people, businesses and investors that there was no need to to panic. He also praised the almost one million European citizens living in London. “You are welcome here,” he said.
Geert Wilders, the right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-Brussels Dutch politician, is one of the most articulate proponents of the potential merits of leaving the European Union. In an interview with The Times, he described Great Britain’s vote to leave as “a fantastic result” that showed that the bloc was far from an inevitable entity.
He predicted that others would follow suit. “The Netherlands will be next,” he said. “We want to regain control over our country, our own money, our own borders, our own immigration policy.”
He also said he expected that the economic impact would be negligible because of the importance of Britain in trade. “If the E.U. punishes Britain in any way, it will only harm itself,” he said.
On his website, Mr. Wilders wrote that June 23 would go down in history as Britain’s Independence Day. “The europhile elite has been defeated,” he wrote. “Britain points Europe the way to the future and to liberation.”
A recent survey by the Dutch television station EenVandaag showed that a majority of the Dutch wanted a referendum on European Union membership, and that more Dutch favored leaving the bloc than remaining, he said.
Mr. Wilders’s remarks followed similar comments by Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front party in France.
China “respects” the process of Britain’s referendum and will work
with both the British government and the European Union, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry said in Beijing on Friday.
“We must face up to the fact of the European Union without the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom leaving Europe,” the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said. “We hope the two sides will reach an agreement at an early date.”
Britain went out of its way last year to usher in a new “golden era” of relations with China and played host to President Xi Jinping during a lavish state visit that was intended to cement stronger economic ties between the two countries.
Asked about the impact of the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, Ms. Hua declined to be drawn in. “It’s a decision by the people of the United Kingdom, by Mr. Cameron himself,” she said. “We respect that.”
China has looked to a united and strong European Union as a counterweight to the United States and has worked hard to cultivate its relationship with Europe as a whole. Mr. Xi also visited Brussels in 2014, becoming the first Chinese president to do so.
An article posted on the website of People’s Daily, China’s most important official newspaper, said the British vote could indirectly unsettle China’s economy in the short term but was unlikely to leave deep, lasting damage and could encourage more financial cooperation between the countries.
“Owing to the shock to confidence in capital markets, it may have some impact in the short term,” said the article by Bian Yongzu, an economist at Renmin University in Beijing.
“But in the medium term, Brexit will not have much impact on Chinese-European trade,” Mr. Bian wrote. “The Chinese market may become more attractive to investors, because of the instability in European markets. As well, because Britain will experience a bigger short-term shock from Brexit, it will become even more committed to cooperating with China, especially in finance, and this would be a plus for China.”
As it became clear that the “Leave” vote would prevail, the South Korean government convened an emergency meeting of top economic policy makers. Later, the country’s Financial Supervisory Commission issued a statement saying that the government would remain on the “highest alert” to assess the repercussions of the vote and would take “pre-emptive stabilizing measures” if there were signs of market turmoil.
“The Brexit decision is expected to add uncertainties to the Korean
economy as well as to the global economy, increasing volatility in the
Korean financial market in the short run,” said Yoo Il-ho, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs. “From now on, we will operate a 24-hour government-wide monitoring and response system.”
As the pound plunged in value on Friday after Britain’s stunning vote to remove itself from the European Union, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, went before television cameras to offer assurances that the central bank was armed with resources to stave off a crisis.
The bank could make 250 billion pounds, about $344 billion, available to the British markets as needed to maintain stability, he said.
“We are well prepared for this,” Mr. Carney said. “The Treasury and the Bank of England have engaged in extensive contingency planning, and the chancellor and I have been in close contact, including through the night and this morning. The bank will not hesitate to take additional measures as required, as those markets adjust and the U.K. economy moves forward.”
He may have offered the market some solace. British stocks continued to pare back their losses after a huge sell-off at the open.
Stephen Farrell is a British journalist at The New York Times. After more than a decade working in the Middle East, South Asia and New York, he has returned to Britain to live for the first time this millennium.
I left Britain in January 2000, at Prime Minister Tony Blair’s peak. The confident years of Cool Britannia were still fresh in the memory, and the nation seemed at ease with its place in the world.
Sixteen years later, I returned to a United Kingdom that is anything but united. What changed? There were hints, missed back then but obvious in hindsight.
The last article I wrote before leaving Britain was about the campaign for the newly created post of elected mayor of London. It was 129 words long. The addition of new layers of government to London, Scotland and Wales seemed worthy but dull.
That was a misjudgment. The new regional institutions changed the balance of Britain and redefined how its constituent parts felt about themselves, one another and the world.
Prime Minister David Cameron has been criticized for being maneuvered into a referendum to appease an anti-Europe faction within his party. But for decades, a chunk of the British electorate has felt strongly about immigration and the island nation’s relationship with the outside world.
Going back to my earliest political memories in the 1970s, those voices have been loud. And they believed strongly that their concerns were ignored by governments over decades, Conservative and Labour alike.
In the new London, where Eastern European languages are now as common as Spanish is in New York, many Britons welcome the new arrivals. But you also hear mutterings of “Britain’s full.”
Many of the voters who think this were angered when Nigel Farage’s U.K. Independence Party secured almost 3.9 million votes in the 2015 general election but won only one seat in Parliament.
They had their say yesterday. You may not have liked the tone of the debate. You may not like the answer. But whether the referendum took place for reasons noble or knavish, it gave millions of Britons their chance to vote on fundamental questions of governance: Who are we? What is Britain? Who frames its laws?
To a recent returnee, the tone of the “Leave” debate seemed ugly. But the “Remain” campaign offered little. It seemed to consist largely of pocketbook warnings that people would be worse off outside the Europe Union.
Having just returned from the “can do” political culture of America, it seemed unwise to be telling an ancient nation reared on stories of Richard the Lionheart and Winston Churchill that Britain could no longer do it alone. It was not inspirational. It failed.
The European Union is a club binding 28 countries by treaty but split by how much the members really want to do together. Take the example of Britain, for instance — even before its vote to leave.
Financial markets in Europe shuddered Friday morning after British voters chose to leave the European Union.
At the start of trading, the FTSE 100 index in London fell 7.5 percent, led by shares of Barclays, which plummeted 26 percent, and HSBC, which dropped 4.8 percent.
The yield on the 10-year British government bond, which moves in the opposite direction of the price, fell as much as 0.34 percentage point, setting a new low at 1.03 percent, a sign that investors were seeking the safest haven available in pound-denominated assets. Comparable German yields fell to minus 0.11 percent. And gold rose 6.6 percent to $1,317.86 on the spot market.
The Euro Stoxx 50, the eurozone blue-chip benchmark, fell 7.2 percent in early trading, and the Dax in Germany opened down 8 percent.
But the biggest agitation was in the currency market, where the British pound tumbled. The pound fell 8.5 percent against the dollar, to $1.3614, and dropped 6 percent against the euro, to €1.2355. The euro slumped 2.8 percent against the dollar, falling to $1.1071.
Chris Turner and Petr Krpata, foreign exchange market analysts at ING,
said there had been no sign yet that the Bank of England would intervene to support the currency, though it did issue a statement saying it was “monitoring developments closely.”
The analysts warned, though, that the central bank might cut interest rates by one-quarter or one-half of a percentage point later Friday morning to ensure sufficient liquidity in the market.
The ING analysts said the euro appeared to be relatively stable, “as long as the current environment does not lead to the European Monetary Union existential crisis.”
Donald Tusk, who represents the 28 national leaders of the European Union, warned Friday morning of “serious” consequences after the vote by Britain to leave the bloc.
But Mr. Tusk, who is president of the European Council, sought to calm fears that the latest crisis to engulf the bloc would overwhelm it.
“There’s no way of predicting all the political consequences of this event, especially for the U.K.,” he said, adding that it was “not a moment for hysterical reactions.”
“We are determined to keep our unity as 27,” Mr. Tusk added, referring to the number of member states left once Britain departs.
Even as Mr. Tusk alluded to a future without Britain, he emphasized that the country would keep its rights and must respect its obligations until it formally withdraws from the European Union.
There would be “no legal vacuum,” said Mr. Tusk, who appeared to be seeking to tamp down on widespread concerns that the process of British withdrawal would be chaotic and acrimonious.
Informal discussions on the withdrawal will begin at a summit meeting of the bloc’s leaders that is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Tusk said.
The European Union has been engulfed by a series of challenges in recent years, including uncontrolled migration from the Middle East and Africa, a sovereign debt crisis that is not yet over for Greece and the annexation of parts of the bloc’s near-neighbor Ukraine by Russia.
No member state has ever left the bloc, making the decision by Britain yet another challenge for its leadership.
But Mr. Tusk insisted that the European Union could manage.
“I always remember what my father used to tell me.” Mr. Tusk said. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, who led the campaign to remain in the European Union, said on Friday that he planned to step down by October. [Read a transcript of his remarks here.]
Mr. Cameron said the country deserved a leader committed to carrying out the will of the people.
“I will do everything I can as prime minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months,” Mr. Cameron said. “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.”
Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who played a crucial role in blocking the so-called Balkan trail as migrants tried to make their way through Europe last year, said on Friday that immigration had been the decisive question in the British referendum.
“Britons were seeking an answer to how they can resist modern-day migration,” he said in an interview with state radio in Budapest. “How they can resist immigration, migrants, how they can continue to keep their own lives in their own hands.”
The most important lesson of Britain’s decision to Hungary and those states remaining in the European Union, he said, is that “Brussels must hear people’s voices.”
Mr. Orban’s government is planning to hold a referendum in the fall to challenge the compulsory resettlement of migrants in European Union member states.