LONDON — The Leave campaign will win the UK referendum on EU membership, CNN predicts. Results show “Leave” leading “Remain” by more than 1 million votes, with 90% of districts reporting.
Almost 46.5 million people were registered to vote in Thursday’s referendum.
Leave.EU and UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who had earlier appeared to concede that the “Remain” vote had “edged it,” told his supporters that the result heralded a “new dawn” for an independent UK.
He also called on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign as a result of the referendum.
“The dawn is coming up on an independent United Kingdom, something that you did your absolute best — you used all of your powers — to prevent,” he said.
“You did it using every organ of state available to you. You’ve lost the trust of the British people. Go, go now.”
The result reflects a deeply divided union.
Prior to the final results, historian Simon Schama told CNN “I think Leave is going to win this and I think Britain is going to leave the European Union, which obviously I think is a catastrophe.
“We’re on a kind of very dangerous knife edge about the integrity and coherence of Europe. So one of those moments, if this result stays and Britain leaves the union, we’re entering a very dark and exceptionally dangerous period in European and actually world history, too.”
In one of the most divisive campaigns in recent memory, polls had consistently shown voters split down the middle, with the outcome too close to call, and wavering voters likely to determine the result.
The UK has been a member of the European Union — and its precursors — since 1973.
Markets start freaking out
The pound has dipped precipitously in forex markets as results from more and more election authorities came in, slowly solidifying the “Leave” camp’s hold on the referendum.
The pound has dropped below 1.35 against the dollar, the lowest since 1985, according to Kit Juckes, a strategist at Societe Generale.
Early referendum results have sparked a global markets sell-off. London stock futures are trading 7% lower and stock futures in the U.S. are down 2%, CNNMoney reports.
Before the polls closed, markets had been expecting the UK would stay in the EU. But that expectation changed rapidly as results started coming in.
The pound is dropping sharply against all major currencies, and is currently trading at 1.38 against the dollar. Oil is down 4%.
Gold — one asset investors turn to in the times of uncertainty — is up 2%.
Turnout appeared to be heavy, with pro-Leave margins surprising observers. Freddie Sayers, Editor-in-Chief and Chief Digital Officer at British pollster YouGov, told CNN that voters in areas expected to vote for Brexit are doing so in greater numbers than projected.
Mark Littlewood,Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said the UK will have a difficult time moving forward.
“Tomorrow we’ll wake up to a totally divided nation,” he said.
Ill portents for ‘remain’ voters
Britons headed to polling stations beneath rainy skies in London, following torrential rains and thunderstorms overnight that caused flash flooding in parts of the capital and southeastern England.
The downpour wreaked havoc on transport networks in London and southern England and caused two polling stations in southwest London to close and relocate after they were inundated with floodwaters. Others across the capital opened late due to the weather.
Among the key political players casting their votes Thursday were UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who voted at a hall in London; Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who also voted in the capital; and Farage, who voted in Westerham, England.
After the polls closed, Cameron tweeted: “Thank you everyone who voted to keep Britain stronger, safer & better off in Europe – and thousands of @StrongerIn campaigners around the UK”
Registered voters include Britons aged over 18 from England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar — a British territory off the southern coast of Spain. Irish and Commonwealth citizens living in the UK are also eligible to vote.
One of the major groups wanting to leave the EU, Vote Leave, tweeted: “Whatever the outcome, it’s been an incredible campaign. Thank you to everyone who was a part of this! #ProjectHope”
Turnout in Scotland is 67% and voted overwhelmingly to stay in Europe. Now that the UK as a whole has determine to leave, many north of the border feel that this would be a catalyst for another Scottish referendum, allowing the country to secede from the UK.
“If this result holds, it’s the end of Britain, just simple as that… Scotland is voting overwhelmingly to stay,” Schama says.
“If Scotland cannot be coerced into leaving the EU against its will, you cannot, in all decency, deny them a second referendum. If all the leavers are about self-government, taking back control, why shouldn’t the Scots take back control?
“Bye-bye Great Britain, bye-bye United Kingdom. That will absolutely happen.”
Turnout in the North East region was about 67% with 7 of its 12 districts reporting. The North East was generally Eurosceptic.
Both turnout figures are about the same as turnout for British general elections — but the Scottish figure is significantly lower than the 85% who turned out to vote in Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum.
‘Out is out’
Cameron negotiated with European leaders this year to secure improved terms of membership in the bloc had Britain stayed in the EU.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned Wednesday there will be no further renegotiation.
“We have concluded the deal with the Prime Minister; he got the maximum he could receive, and we gave the maximum we could give so there will be no kind of renegotiation,” he said.
“Out is out.”
French President François Hollande also warned that the result would have a huge impact on the future of the European Union.
“The departure of a country that is, geographically, historically, politically in the European Union would have extremely serious consequences,” he said.
The political climate leading up to the referendum was unusually volatile, with both sides accusing each other of lying and scaremongering.
The tension reached its peak with last week’s killing of Labour MP Jo Cox, a pro-“Remain” advocate in her first term in parliament. She was the first sitting British lawmaker to be killed since 1990.
Her husband, Brendan Cox, told the BBC she had been concerned about politics becoming “too tribal and unthinking.”
“She was very worried that the language was coarsening and people were driven to take more extreme positions,” he said.
On Wednesday, another Labour MP tweeted that she had received a death threat for her referendum campaigning.