Brexit aftermath

The Brexit new world

Britain's historic decision is set to have repercussions for many years to come

LONDON • It will be many years before Britain and the world will know what Brexit will ultimately look like. But in the days after Thursday's referendum, the repercussions of the country's historic decision have begun to unfold.

There had been growing expectation last week that the country would vote to stay in the European Union, as final opinion polls gave the Remain campaign the edge and the pound strengthened.

Final results, however, showed that 52 per cent voted for Britain to leave, sending shock waves across the country and around the world.

Britain woke up a "Disunited Kingdom" last Friday, as local media called it. While England and Wales voted out, Scotland and Northern Ireland backed Remain - a result that many fear could lead to the break up of the United Kingdom.

 

The political fallout hit Downing Street and Westminster, with Prime Minister David Cameron saying he would resign by October.

Britain woke up a 'Disunited Kingdom' last Friday, as local media called it. While England and Wales voted out, Scotland and Northern Ireland backed Remain - which many fear could lead to the break up of the UK.

"I do not think it would be right for me to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination," he said in an emotional address outside his office.

Former London mayor Boris Johnson, one of the leaders of the Leave camp who is now seen as a leading contender for the post of prime minister, praised Mr Cameron's "extraordinary" leadership of the country over the past six years. He also sought to assure those who voted Remain, saying Britain is not "turning its back" on Europe.

The same day, a no confidence motion was tabled against opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by two of his party's MPs.

Then, over the weekend, it emerged that Mr Corbyn had sacked his shadow foreign secretary after reports in the media that he was leading a coup - a move that led to a raft of resignations in his shadow Cabinet.

Britain's eurosceptic forces, meanwhile, celebrated what they saw as a victory over the political establishment, big business and foreign leaders, including US President Barack Obama who had urged Britain to stay in.

"This will be a victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people... Let June 23 go down in our history as our independence day," said Mr Nigel Farage, leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party.

Front pages of newspapers in Britain and other countries reflected the range of reactions, from celebratory (Daily Mail) to stunned disbelief (FT Weekend).

Online and offline, some who voted Leave expressed regret as the pound tumbled and panic spread to global markets.

A woman named Hazel rued her choice after Mr Farage admitted that one of the Leave campaign's slogans - that £350 million (S$629 million) sent every week to the EU could be redirected to the National Health Service (NHS) - was a mistake.

"I was led to believe that part of the money we pay to be in Europe was going to go on the NHS. But, this morning, it's lies... I am now in turmoil over it," she told Daily Mail.

The four-month campaign leading to the vote was among the most divisive in Britain, and it remains to be seen how the country can come together and move forward.

There had been accusations of lying and scare-mongering on both sides and rows over immigration.

Pro-EU MP Jo Cox was stabbed and shot to death in her constituency a week before the vote by an attacker who later told a court his name was "Death to traitors, freedom for Britain".

A breakdown of the results also pointed to a generation gap: Older voters backed Brexit while the young mainly wanted to stay in. Many young people said they feel betrayed by an older generation who turned their backs on Europe but who will not be around to see the damage wreaked.

On social media, many shared a comment by a Financial Times reader lamenting the economic impact of the retreat from Europe as well as the incalculable personal cost.

"We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied," the unidentified commentator said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'The Brexit new world'. Print Edition | Subscribe