Day the world watched

Disunited Kingdom

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and "Leave" supporters cheering the referendum outcome yesterday. He had said Prime Minister David Cameron should immediately resign if Brexit became a reality. A taxi driver in central London displaying a Un
A taxi driver in central London displaying a Union flag in celebration of the result of the EU referendum yesterday. Despite warnings by experts that a Brexit will have dire consequences for the economy, Britons have ignored these threats.PHOTO: REUTERS
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and "Leave" supporters cheering the referendum outcome yesterday. He had said Prime Minister David Cameron should immediately resign if Brexit became a reality. A taxi driver in central London displaying a Un
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and "Leave" supporters cheering the referendum outcome yesterday. He had said Prime Minister David Cameron should immediately resign if Brexit became a reality. PHOTO: REUTERS

While half the country cheers 'Independence Day', others are in disbelief over the result

Britons woke up yesterday morning to a new country - one that no longer wants to be part of a larger community that is the European Union.

In a bitterly-fought referendum that has divided the nation, emotions were high and equally split from Scotland to Southhampton yesterday.

While half the country cheered this "Independence Day", as declared by UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, others were dumbfounded and in disbelief over the decision.

"I'm in utter shock and dismay," said Mr Simon Ly, 30, born and bred in London and who voted for Remain on Thursday. "The country I thought I knew, I clearly don't."

It had seemed that Remain had inched ahead in the last round of opinion polls on the eve of polling day, and even in one released by YouGov as polls closed at 10pm.

Mr Farage also looked to have conceded just as counting got under way when he said it looked like "Remain will edge it".

Remain was off to a promising start, with the first area to declare, Gibraltar, voting a landslide 95.9 per cent to stay in.

 

But the first signs of trouble for the pro-EU camp came at midnight when Newcastle, which was expected to do well with its Remain votes, mustered just 50.7 per cent. Then, when the results for the Midlands, Wales and North-east England came tumbling in, it became clearer and clearer that large swathes of the country wanted out.

The pound plunged and by 4.40am, national broadcaster BBC had declared a Leave victory based on its analysis.

 

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By then, Mr Farage had changed his tune, saying Prime Minister David Cameron should immediately resign if Brexit became a reality.

Analysts and politicians have pointed to the result as a clear signal that the electorate is deeply dissatisfied with the establishment and the status quo, and have made their feelings known.

Despite numerous warnings by experts that a Brexit will have dire consequences for their economy, Britons have ignored these threats.

"A lot of people are doing it out of defiance. It's based on feelings, not logic," said Mr Ly, who works in a marketing agency. "My fear is, who are the new men and women who will take over? We need a leader who will unite this country. I can't see that person in this current political scene."

As the night wore on, speculation was rife that the Prime Minister would resign. This, even though more than 80 pro-Brexit Tory MPs signed a letter calling on him to remain as PM even if Remain lost.

Digital marketing assistant Lauren Rickard's worst fears came true when she woke up to news that Brexit had become a reality.

"I'm very disappointed. I think older voters have, rather selfishly, voted to get a 'quick fix' to their problems without thinking of the long-term implications leaving the EU will have, particularly for younger generations," said the 24-year- old who, with most of her family members, had voted for Remain.

Social media reacted strongly and swiftly to the news, with the hashtags #NotInMyName and #WhatHaveWeDone trending on Twitter by mid-morning.

Londoners, who voted overwhelmingly for Britain to stay in the EU, also took to Twitter calling for London to become an independent state and join the EU. A petition asking London Mayor Sadiq Khan to declare the city independent was launched on change.org and garnered 26,000 supporters.

"London is an international city, and we want to remain at the heart of Europe. Let's face it - the rest of the country disagrees. So rather than passive aggressively vote against each other at every election, let's make the divorce official and move in with our friends on the continent," said the petition.

EU and Commonwealth citizens living here were uneasy over the nation's decision, which has cast uncertainty onto their future.

"It's sad the UK rejected the idea of a unified Europe, for all its flaws," said Swede Marcus Wilert, 41, an ethical-trade manager who has worked in London for three years.

"As someone who is well-educated and employed, I don't see big changes in my situation, but I definitely feel less welcome as a European."

Singaporean entrepreneur Ellen Chew was "super disappointed".

"It will affect me, but not now. I need to rethink my expansion plans in the coming years," said the restaurateur who has lived in London for 10 years. As a Commonwealth citizen who is resident in Britain, she was eligible to vote and decided to go with Remain.

But outside of London, which has bucked the national trend along with Scotland, champagne bottles will be popping and there will be celebrations over the weekend in cities like Sunderland, Dudley and Newport, which have all shown strong support for Leave.

One of those who will be celebrating is builder Jamie Byefiled, 35, who is happy to see Mr Cameron go.

"The government says it's brilliant to stay within the EU, but we don't see the benefits. We're struggling with hospitals and housing, but we're giving so much money every week to the EU," he said.

"The economy will go into a downward spiral for a while, but we'll be stronger in the end. Now, we need someone who has fresh ideas so the country can stand tall and start exporting again."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline ' Disunited Kingdom'. Print Edition | Subscribe