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In the referendum held on Thursday 23 June, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, with the Leave vote receiving 52% of the votes. Over 30 million people voted (71.8%), which was the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election. (You’ve probably seen the word Brexit appearing everywhere. The word has become used as a shorthand way of saying the UK leaving the EU—merging the words Britain and exit.)
The individual countries within the UK voted as follows:
England: Leave 53.4% to 46.6%
Wales: Leave 52.5% to 47.5%
Scotland: Remain 62% to 38%
Northern Ireland: Remain 55.8% to 44.2%
The EU is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries. It began after World War Two to foster economic co-operation, based on the idea that countries which traded together were more likely to avoid going to war with each other. It has since grown to become a “single market”, allowing goods and people to basically move around as if the member states were one country.
It has its own currency, the euro, its own parliament and it now sets rules in a wide range of areas, including: the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things such as mobile phone charges.
Upon hearing the result, British Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced his decision to step down as PM by October. Mr Cameron said he would continue on as Prime Minister with his Cabinet for the next three months, but that a new prime minister should be in place by the beginning of the Conservative party conference on 2nd October 2016. Nominations for a replacement leader will come from Conservative members of the House of Commons.
For the UK to leave the EU it has to invoke an agreement called Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. When a decision has been made regarding when to invoke this, which will be made by David Cameron’s successor, this will then set in motion the formal legal process of withdrawing from the EU and give the UK two years to negotiate its withdrawal.
EU law still stands in the UK while negotiations take place and until it ceases being a member—and that process could take some time— but will not take part in any further decision-making.
Mr Cameron, meanwhile, has the task of explaining the decision made by the British people to the European Council next week.
In view of its strong Remain result Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that a second independence referendum for the country is now highly likely. She believes it is “democratically unacceptable” that Scotland faces being taken out of the EU when it voted to Remain.
Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, said the impact in Northern Ireland would be very profound and believes that all of Ireland should now be able to vote on reunification. Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, has, however, ruled out the call from Sinn Féin for a border poll, saying the circumstances requiring one do not exist.
The UK Independence Party was the group leading the campaign for Britain to leave the EU. About half of Conservative MPs, including five cabinet ministers, several Labour MPs and the DUP were also in favour of leaving.
They believed the EU imposed too many rules on business, which was holding Britain back, and objected to the billions of pounds a year being paid in membership fees for little in return. They also wanted Britain to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people entering to live and/or work.
Prime Minister, David Cameron, wanted Britain to stay in the EU. US President, Barack Obama, also wanted Britain to remain, as did other EU nations such as France and Germany.
Those campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU saw its membership as providing a significant boost to the economy. It made exports to other EU countries easier and they felt the flow of immigrants, most of whom are young and keen to work, fuelled economic growth and helped to fund public services. They also said Britain’s status in the world would be damaged by leaving and that it was more secure as part of the 28 nation club, rather than going it alone.