The result will fundamentally change the UK's relationship with the EU, but could also change Britain itself
The British people - and Europe & the world - have been waking up this morning to a shock ending to the latest series of the Great British Breakup.
The opinion polls had, quite simply, been all over the place, but it seemed some Leave campaigners didn’t even expect a Brexit. “Remain will edge it,” Nigel Farage predicted late last night.
Spoiler alert: Remain didn’t edge it. The long-term consequences of the Brexit vote are, as of now, uncertain. But the immediate consequences were stark. Chaos in the stock market and David Cameron announcing his resignation were the two biggest headlines in the hours after the surprise result was declared. Who knows what will happen once everything has had some time to stew. At least Adele's great breakup album 25 has finally gone live on Spotify for people to mope to.
The impending breakup between Britain and the EU will the most seismic event in recent European history. But after a campaign that was waged - and won - on a fiercely nationalistic platform, perhaps a breakup in Britain itself will prove much bitter. The United Kingdom, it seems, isn’t so united after all - an egg that already has plenty of cracks in its shell.
Question marks now hang over Scotland and Northern Ireland’s relationship with England and Wales. Less than two years after the Scottish people voted no to independence, Scotland backed ‘Remain’ by a massive margin of 62% to 38%. It’s a result that could easily provoke a second independence referendum - and a strong swing towards a ‘yes’ vote. The Scottish National Party certainly won’t be leaving the EU without a fight, which could prove a recipe for disaster for a newly independent Britain.
Northern Ireland, meanwhile, also voted against a Brexit, albeit by a smaller margin of around 10%. Sinn Féin were quick out of the gate to comment on the vote’s implications, and called for a vote on a united Ireland. “It is unacceptable that a majority in England and Wales can alter the constitutional status of the North against the wishes of the people there,” the party’s MEP Liadh Ní Riada said. Such a vote, however, is very unlikely to be something the unionist parties in the North would be able to digest easily.
The separate countries within the UK have shown they are deeply divided on the issue of the EU, but even within England and Wales the geographic and demographic divisions show a society that is far from united and tensions that threaten to boil over. A quick glance at a map of how the different regions voted shows a particularly sharp rural-urban divide, with Remain majorities in London, Cardiff, Manchester and Liverpool. If this was a bake off, London area would be the 'soggy bottom':
Polls conducted in the days before the election, meanwhile, showed just how deep demographic divisions influenced the vote. A majority of older people indicated a preference to Leave, with young people favouring Stay. College and university graduates widely supported staying in the EU, while people with no or lower level qualifications favoured Leave.
A lot of this won’t come as a major surprise - it’s the same with every election. This wasn’t a normal election, though, and it’s a decision that will almost certainly have major ramifications for the UK and its future. The results show, in no uncertain terms, how definitive the traditional societal divisions are.
There’s a massive gap between generations. The differences between London and the rest of England are more pronounced than ever. There are deeply ingrained divisions between the different classes.
The results will also rattle the political establishment - in fact, it has already been shaken with the resignation announcement by David Cameron this morning. A vast majority of British MPs campaigned for a Brexit, and that simply did not match up with the general public’s views - the most obvious manifestation of the deep anti-establishment sentiment being seen across the western world in recent years. It caused a very public internal rift within the ruling Conservative party, which will likely take some time to heal. UKIP only won a single seat in last year’s general election - they are today celebrating a victory that was likely beyond their wildest dreams.
“We've got our country back,” Nigel Farage tweeted this morning. The exact ingredients of that country could change radically over the coming years once everything has had a chance to settle.
In one of the most dramatic breakups the world has seen in decades, the British people have exercised their democratic right to leave the European Union. The next series of the Great British Breakup, however, will define exactly what a post-EU United Kingdom will look like.