World stunned as UK votes to leave EU, markets crash
AFP photoBritain has voted to leave the European Union, forcing the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron and dealing the biggest blow since World War II to the European project of forging greater unity.
Britons, many worried by high levels of immigration, voted 52 percent to 48 percent to quit in the June 23 historic referendum, a move that could risk the breakup of both the United Kingdom and the European Union.
“I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination,” Cameron said in a speech outside Downing Street as the sterling, global stocks and oil prices plummeted.
Britain will be the first country ever to leave the EU after decades of suspicion over the aims of ever-closer political union, scoring a shock victory for the anti-establishment rhetoric of the Brexit campaign.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the result a “blow” to Europe while French President Francois Hollande said it was a “grave test.”
But European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker flatly denied it was the beginning of the end for the EU, already troubled by growing euroskepticism, economic and migration crises.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who had warned against Britain quitting the European Union, said June 14 that Washington would respect the British voters’ decision to do just that, adding that the U.K. and EU would both remain “indispensable partners” of the United States and that the “special relationship” with London would endure.
“The people of the United Kingdom have spoken, and we respect their decision,” Obama said, in a statement from his White House office.
But, in a nod to Washington’s frustration that its ally has been unwilling to back a European project seen as a cornerstone of Western power, Obama also paid tribute to the EU.
Cameron, who led the campaign for Britain to stay, said it should be his successor who begins complex negotiations on pulling Britain out of the EU, a process which could last a decade.
According to a final YouGov poll before the referendum released on the Mirror’s website on June 24, 72 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds backed a Remain vote, while just 19 percent were backing the Brexit.
Some 59 percent of people 65 years old and over said they would vote to exit the bloc, while only 34 percent of the same group said they voted Remain.
Top Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London and a favorite to succeed Cameron, also said there was “no need for haste.”
But European chiefs said the country, which first joined the then European Economic Community in 1973, should start the process “as soon as possible.”
“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,” said a joint statement by the European Commission, Parliament and Council leaders.
Leaders of the EU, a bloc born out of a determination to forge lasting peace after two world wars, will open a two-day summit on June 28 to grapple with Britain’s decision.
“We’ve done it! We’ve won!” anti-EU campaigners shouted at a party in Westminster, popping open champagne bottles as “Leave” victories flowed in. “Out! Out! Out!” they chanted as dawn broke.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reached out to Britain and the European Union, saying Canada would “continue to build relationships with both parties.”
“The U.K. and the EU are important strategic partners for Canada with whom we enjoy deep historical ties and common values,” the prime minister said in a statement.