Britons voted Thursday to leave the 28-nation European Union, a historic vote that could profoundly reshape Europe’s economy.
With the “Leave” vote racking up large majorities in much of the country, the BBC and ITV both declared that the referendum, dubbed the “Brexit,” had won. The vote showed Britain to be sharply divided geographically, with a strong pro-EU vote in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and majorities for leaving in much of the rest of the country.
There were reports that turnout was lower than expected in some of the areas most committed to staying in the European Union – in particular, Scotland, where voters overwhelmingly opposed leaving the union.
The British pound – Britain had never adopted the Euro – fell sharply in international markets on the news.
The vote promised political, economic and social changes for Britain and the member nations as well as global ramifications. Supporters say Britain would be in a better financial position, but opponents say the potential problems outweigh any benefits.
Final, official results of the vote were not expected until Friday morning at the earliest. Polling data ahead of the vote indicated it would be close and early returns hewed to that forecast, with the vote to leave the EU ahead by about a 51-49% margin. There was no exit polling.
A newscaster on ITV television reported “near total silence” at a “Remain” campaign party.
Earlier in the day, despite rainy and gray weather, there was a long line of people waiting to vote on the issue known as Brexit at the Gospel Oak Methodist Church in north London, which was not the case last month for the London mayoral election.
“I think this referendum is really important,” said Anna Solemani, wearing a “Remain” sticker on her rain slicker. “I want to stay in and this is the most passionate I have ever been for an election or referendum.”
In the London neighborhood of Chelsea, pensioner Jo Davis said she voted to leave because “I think we have had such a muddle with immigration.”
The EU began after World War II to generate economic cooperation and avoid war. The debate on whether it’s time for Britain to break away has generated fears about uncontrolled immigration and other problems if the “Remain” camp wins and a virtual economic collapse if the “Leave” camp wins.
Britain will have about two years to negotiate its exit strategy.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, warned that there would be no further negotiations of the country’s relationship with the EU if British voters decided to leave, saying Wednesday that “out is out.”
The referendum has been a highly contentious issue for months, with both sides claiming their statistics and predictions are correct and accusing the other side of inaccuracies and lies. The BBC even set up the “Reality Check” page on their news website in a bid to fact-check all the claims made by both sides.
The campaign experienced tragedy last week as lawmaker Jo Cox, a Remain supporter, was killed by a man who reportedly shouted “Britain First” before shooting and stabbing the 41-year-old mother of two. Britain First, a far right political group, denied any involvement in the slaying.
The vote to leave the EU means Britain will have to renegotiate its relationship with the countries still in the partnership and other nations. The Leave camp, headed by former London Mayor Boris Johnson, said Britain would be better off financially because all the money the country contributes to the EU would remain in British coffers and could help boost the internal economy.
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