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London:Britain has voted to leave the European Union, in a shock referendum result that defied late polls and is predicted to hurt the global economy.
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party and for years the face of British separatism, said he hoped this “independence day” marked the beginning of the collapse of the “failed” European project, leading to a Europe once again of sovereign nation states.
As dawn broke over Britain, it became clear that the Leave campaign had won – just – the majority backing of a deeply divided country.
The rusting industrial, white working-class heart of Britain led a surge of votes for the island to break its legal and economic ties to Europe, and reset itself as an independent nation.
Motivating the vote was mistrust of unchecked immigration from Europe, analysts said.
Free movement of labour is one of the pillars of the union. But Leave voters feared immigrants were overloading Britain’s health, education and welfare systems, pushing wages down and house prices up.
The pound took a huge hammering, hitting levels not seen since the 1980s, as the markets predicted trouble ahead for the British economy outside the EU trade zone, and ripple effects in Europe and beyond.
Economists have predicted a recession in Britain would result from the vote.
The Australian and US stock exchanges also dipped in response.
European political unionists feared the end of the “European project”, the status quo on the continent since the Second World War.
No country has ever left the EU.
But the Leave camp were jubilant, with Leave.eu founder Arron Banks saying democracy would return to Westminster.
The vote is already being called anearthquakein the politics, and economies, of Britain and Europe.
Prime Minister David Cameron will now be fighting for his political life, having called the referendum and campaigned for Remain.
Some predicted he wouldn’t last the day in the role.
He was expected to make a statement outside No.10 Downing Street later on Friday.
Rival Boris Johnson is expected to push to lead a government that will activate, for the first time, the European treaty articles that lead to an exit from the union.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will also be under pressure, as Labour’s northern heartland resoundingly rejected his plea to vote Remain.
Some political analysts were tipping an early election – despite recent laws that enshrined fixed parliamentary terms.
The vote saw unexpectedly high turnouts for Leave in Britain’s north, where disaffected working-class communities are suspicious of immigration and felt modern politics and economy had failed them.
The regions generally plumped for Leave, and,although London was a bastion for Remain, the turnout there might have been suppressed by torrential rain, which caused public transport chaos and saw some polling places closed or moved.
Scotland voted strongly to Remain, but turnout was much weaker than had been expected.
Scottish National Party politicians have foreshadowed the nation may push again to secede from Britain, in order to stay in Europe.
Northern Ireland also came down on the Remain side, due to fears of the effect thatBrexitwould have on the border with the Republic of Ireland.
Chancellor of the ExchequerGeorge Osborne has said he might have to bring down an emergency budget to deal with the vote’s aftermath.
Labour’s shadow chancellor JohnMacdonnellpredicted the Bank of England would have to intervene to slow the fall of the pound.
He said the market might be reassured if the government promised to bargain for the best trade deal it could get with Europe, from the outside.
The EU’s leaders in Brussels are expected to playhardballin negotiating Britain’s exit, to send a message to other states that might be contemplating a similar move.
The result was another terrible night for pollsters, almost all of whom had predicted a narrow Remain win.
They had also failed to predict last year’s general election win for the Conservatives.
Polling also caused MrFarageto concede a likely Remain victory even before a single vote had been counted. He later “unconceded”.
At 4am, before an official or media call of the result, he claimed victory.
“The dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” he said. “This will be a victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people.
“Honesty, decency, the belief in nation I think now is going to win.”
The campaign was won by “damn hard work on the ground”, he said.
“I hope this victory brings down this failed project and leads to a Europe of sovereign nation states.
“Let June 23rd go down in history as our independence day.”
Matthew Goodwin, politics professor at the University of Kent, said the referendum had exposed a sharp divide in British society. It had shown there were social groups with very different values. The Leave vote was a “very loud and very clear message” that the EU and globalisation were not benefiting them and that Westminster elites were not listening to them, he said.
SaraHobolt, professor at the London School of Economics, said the referendum had given the disaffected and disenfranchised a chance to stick it to the political class.
The Leave campaign had cleverly played the “people versus the elite” card, she said.
Some voted on the EU, some on the economy, some on immigration.
It came down to a question of whether people were more scared of uncapped immigration, or of the potentialeconomic chaos followingBrexit.
The referendum result has no legal power, but the government is expected to respect the result and begin theBrexitprocess.
More than 46 million people were registered to vote in the third nationwide referendum in British history.
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