The referendum was set to take place on Thursday, June 23, 2016. On this date, all Britons aged eighteen and over would have the chance to vote for one of two options: ‘leave’ for an independent UK, or ‘remain’ to stay as a member of the European Union. Commonly known as the ‘Brexit’ referendum, the campaign was characterized by emotional debates and sensational claims on both sides. Campaigning was suspended for a time following the tragic murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, when she was about to attend a constituency surgery on June 16th 2016. As a result of the intensity of the campaign, the referendum attracted a huge voter turnout.
The UK government, led by the conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, was one of the loudest voices from within the ‘Remain’ camp claiming that the UK economy would suffer financially as a result of leaving the union. Financial and economic forecasts from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the OECD predicted a substantial negative impact on the domestic economy and employment in a “Brexit” scenario.
To counter these warnings the ‘Leave’ camp focused on the cost of EU membership to the UK. The famous red ‘Battle Bus’ travelled the countryside, splashed with the message ‘We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead.’ Other figures within the ‘leave’ camp also stoked lingering fears around immigration. Former UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage stood in front of billboards depicting people presumed to be refugees, under the words “BREAKING POINT, the EU has failed us all”. Other memorable claims included former London Mayor and prominent Leave Campaigner Boris Johnson’s statement that the EU prohibited bananas from being sold in bunches of more than two or three. Untrue as the statement may be, it appeared to gain traction among Britons angered by red tape.
As the votes were tallied, the final results of the referendum became clear. The people of the United Kingdom chose to leave the EU. The majority of voters decided that the negative impacts of a “Brexit” are worthwhile in order for the country to regain stricter control of increasing immigration, sovereignty, trade and economy. The majority of UK voters were willing to vote for an independent UK despite the awareness of risk, uncertainty and likelihood of a negative effect on individuals’ personal finances, businesses and the economy.
On the morning of June 24th the result of the referendum came as a surprise to many. The result sets in motion the end of the 41 year history of the UK as a member of the EU. Fallout on the financial market was swift. As expected in the event of a 'Leave' victory, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his retirement. Markets tolerate uncertainty poorly, and in the wake of the unprecedented outcome, billions of pounds were wiped off the London Stock Exchange, and the British pound traded at its lowest value in decades.
The result was divisive. Despite the number of young people that had registered to vote, they were disappointed with the outcome, feeling that the older generation had taken away the future envisaged by most millennials, although the result was impacted heavily by voter turnout. There was a greater percentage of older constituents voting, which ultimately gave a massive boost to the “leave” vote. Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to stay within the EU, publicly raised the prospect of breaking away from the UK in order to remain an EU Member State.
From this point on, the process will take at least two years to complete after the UK Government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, the instrument necessary to begin exit negotiations. While several of the predicted negative impacts are already apparent, particularly with relation to financial markets, the long term effects of Brexit remain to be seen.