The Straits Times says

Woe Britannia, divided kingdom

History presented itself in Britain yesterday. It came all at once , not just little by little to reveal its import over time. This was an instant game changer: the one vote meant to rule over all other political choices to come.

And history arrived with an angry face. Brexit revealed a nation deeply at odds with itself - London versus provincial England, younger versus older voters, those with an economic focus versus others fretting about immigration (with the second group in all cases straining to exit Europe).

History was most certainly made in a once united kingdom that now faces a separatist mood among the Scots, who "see their future as part of the European Union" as a nationalist leader noted ominously after the vote. Those of the ilk of smug eurosceptic and right-wing populist politicians might get more than they bargained for in calling for UK's "independence day", a term echoed by opposition and even Tory blowhards.

Much is falling apart with the signalled break from Europe: British Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned, the pound is taking a beating, markets are reeling and, as a footnote, maligned Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn might, like other top leaders, also live to rue their misguided approach to the referendum.

Brexit is a patently bad choice but comes second to the disastrous decision to put the question to the vote in the first place. History has shown that complex, bundled issues should not be reduced to a stark choice that can be exploited by populists from the left and right. The results have never been pretty. Mr Cameron's risky political gamble in calling the vote, thinking he could settle a long-simmering issue by calling the eurosceptics out, has ironically left his country and his party woefully split asunder and adrift.

British leaders ought to have known that there was a heavy price to pay for asking voters to say "yes" or "no" to a highly divisive question that has seen a conflation of the impact of unemployment, living costs, immigration and other issues. Not surprisingly, Brussels became the whipping boy of the campaign, but ultimately London is the one feeling the pain.

The British will now have to keep calm and carry on. To avoid costlier outcomes to the nation, they must not become inward-looking and fractious people who believe that pulling up the drawbridge alone is somehow the answer to tangled social and economic issues. The next prime minister faces the formidable task of leaching away the bitterness of a referendum campaign that had always threatened to turn into a train wreck. Next, he will have to carefully negotiate a path with Europe to keep important options open. Embracing globalisation, leveraging its established strengths and forging a new social consensus will surely help Britain retain its storied place in history.

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