'Brexit,' Stage Left: U.K. Votes to Leave EU

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June 23, 2016

Brexit it is.

In a historic nationwide referendum, a majority of United Kingdom voters has opted for their country to leave the European Union. The U.K. has been a member of the EU since 1973.

In response, Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned so heavily in favor of staying in the EU, announced his intention to resign.

Next up is a period of negotiations with EU and other European officials, to work out the terms of Brexit, a mashup of “Britain” and “Exit” that gained favor in recent weeks.

European Union rules state that once a member state has notified the EU of an intention to leave, the minimum period before the official break is two years. Cameron, who recently negotiated a host of concessions from EU leaders in an attempt to forestall the move to leave, will instead oversee the first-ever exit from the EU.

Cameron, as part of an election pledge, promised that if he and his Conservative Party were returned to power, they would facilitate the referendum before the end of 2017. In 2015, the Conservatives won a majority and returned to power. Cameron then kept his pledge to hold the referendum.

The ballot featured two options: “Should the U.K. Remain in the European Union?” and “Should the U.K. Leave the European Union.” The proponents of the status quo, with the U.K. in the EU, were part of what came to be known as the Remain camp; the proponents of the U.K.’s leaving the EU were part of what came to be known as the Leave camp.

Both sides campaigned fiercely in the weeks before the day of the referendum, supporting their arguments with both verifiable facts and questionable claims. Cameron and other government officials, not to mention celebrities and other high-profile people, made impassioned speeches and participated in televised debates.

And on June 23, voters went to the polls. It wasn’t just current U.K. residents who could vote. Anyone who had voted in the U.K. in the last 15 years was eligible to vote, and millions of people who now live elsewhere sent in their ballots via mail.

After all of the votes were counted, Scotland was clearly in the Remain camp, with a 600,000-plus majority; Northern Ireland was clearly in the Remain camp, with a nearly 100,000-vote majority; and Wales was clearly in the Leave camp, with a 130,000-plus majority.

It was England, though, as the nation in the United Kingdom with the largest population, that provided the most votes for both camps and tipped the balance into the Leave camp. In the end, a majority of voters, about 52 percent, stated their preference that the U.K. should leave the EU.

Turnout was heaviest in England, at nearly 73 percent. Just behind was Wales, with 71 percent turnout. Scotland, at 67 percent, and Northern Ireland, at 63 percent, lagged in turnout. Overall turnout was 72 percent of registered voters.

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