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comment 24 Jun 16

Provincial Revolt Ends Britain’s EU Odyssey

The combined votes of London and Scotland were not enough to outweigh a working class revolt against the political elites as well as the EU.

Marcus Tanner
Photo: Flickr.

A political disaster for UK Prime Minister David Cameron and an even bigger disaster for the EU unfolded just after 12.30 on Friday morning - two-and-half hours after polling closed in Britain’s historic “in-out” referendum.

Panelists gathered in the BBC studio in London gasped when the first results came in from the industrial northeast of England - the Labour Party heartlands of Newcastle and Sunderland.

As a prosperous university town with a large young and graduate population, Newcastle had been tipped to vote heavily for “Remain”. The vote in Sunderland was expected to be evenly split.

Instead, the result was almost exactly 50-50 in Newcastle, while poorer, less affluent, Sunderland voted by a thumping margin for “Brexit”.

The value of the pound tumbled in minutes as traders grasped the seismic significance of these results, and scrambled to sell stocks of UK currency. The game for Remain was up, even before the votes in the rest of the country had been counted.

Later on Friday morning, as the vote from overwhelmingly pro-EU London came in, the Remain camp rallied briefly.

But the combined votes of the capital – where people voted 4:1 to remain – and of Scotland, was not enough to quell what was turning out to be an English provincial rebellion – not only against the EU but against the political establishment generally and, indeed, London.

The final result, which was 52 per cent for Leave and 48 for Remain, not only terminates the career of David Cameron, who has announced his resignation.

It deals another huge blow to the reputation of the pollsters who – as in the last UK general election – got it wrong.

Right up until polling stations closed on 10pm on Thursday, pollsters had predicted a narrow but convincing victory for Remain.

The shock murder of a popular pro-Remain MP last week by a deranged far-right fanatic was another factor that appeared to derail the Leave campaign and hand the initiative to the Remainers.

In the end, however, the murder of Jo Cox, the combined advice of the leaders of all three main political parties, the urgings of most business leaders, the passionate declarations of a host of celebrities and sports stars and the dramatic warnings from expert economists failed to sway the mass of voters.

As the Guardian columnist Matthew D’Ancona put it: “They heard the warnings, listened to experts of every kind tell them that Brexit meant disaster, watched the prime minister as he urged them not to take a terrible risk. And their answer was: get stuffed.”

For Prime Minister Cameron, it is indeed clear that the decision to call a referendum on the EU, in the hope of ending years of arguments over Europe, was a fatal blunder.

Cameron called the vote to silence anti-EU agitators inside his own Conservative Party, confirm his leadership and reunite the country around a programme of “reform” of the EU.
Instead, the referendum did the opposite, splitting both the ruling party and the country into two halves.

In Scotland, there have been immediate predictions that the exit vote will open the way to a second referendum on independence - which angry pro-EU separatists look likely to win.

In Europe, the impact of the vote will be long-lasting and potentially devastating.

It can only fuel nationalist and separatist sentiment all over the continent, hearten the far right and deeply dismay the UK’s allies in Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and indeed Germany.

For the EU aspirant countries, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia, the referendum result is also a major setback.

For the next two years at last, the EU’s energy will all be spent on arguing about the terms of Britain’s departure.

For both the UK and for Europe, the next few years are going to be a very bumpy ride.

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