It is official-by a margin of 51.9% to 48.1%, a wider margin than was predicted, voters in the UK have voted to leave the European Union, on a turnout of 72% and with 'Leave' finishing over one million votes ahead of 'Remain'.
The impact was rather immediate, with the pound hitting its lowest value against the Euro and US dollar since 1985 and with David Cameron promising to resign as Prime Minister this October, which will in all likelihood trigger a snap general election later this year.
In light of all the socio-economic statistics which would favour Britain remaining an EU member, and so many economists and campaigners calling for a remain vote, why did it happen?
1. Rebellion against 'the Establishment' by disillusioned and poorer voters.
The council areas that gave the heaviest Leave votes by a considerable margin share key characteristics with each other. Hartlepool, Boston, and Thurrock, for example, which all voted to leave the EU by a more than 2-1 margin (a 3-1 margin in Boston's case!), have a lot of older voters and a considerable white working class population which has felt alienated from the benefits the EU provided to Britain and has felt that the EU is too controlling and does more harm than good. These areas have also often suffered the decline and loss of their local industries and they often hold the EU responsible for their failure to recover and stifling of opportunities.
Many key pro-EU proponents were 'Establishment' figures or 'elite' institutions and despite the eloquency of their arguments actually turned many voters away from the EU because those voters perceived them as out of touch with their everyday lives and concerns, although a lot of anti-EU advocates were largely just in the campaign to suit their own vested interests rather than the will of the people, which mattered above all else in this vote. This vote showed that the people of Britain are no longer willing to simply trust reputable figures who they perceived as representing an out of touch elite, and want a greater say in their future.
2. Divisions between us.
Never before has the United Kingdom been so divided; Scotland voted decisively to remain, and Northern Ireland also voted to remain overall, but England voted decisively to leave and of course had far more electors. Most areas of Wales also voted to leave, if narrowly. It is clear the UK can no longer work as an overly centralised nation; it must be a federal and balanced nation if it is to continue.
3. Lack of accountability within the EU.
The distant nature of the EU, with corresponding democratic and accountability deficits, was frequently cited as a reason for Britain to leave the EU, and perceived distance was a key factor in determining the outcome of the referendum. Its controlling nature was also cited by many as a reason for Britain to leave the EU and reclaim sovereignty they believed had been lost e.g. over fishing laws.
4. Remain's campaign was not good enough.
People wanted real change even if they might have been inclined to support the EU, and the Remain campaign failed to make any real case for reforming the EU for the better if Britain had voted to stay in. Remain's image during the campaign could also have been better, since the image that is presented to voters matters so much. Remain mostly spoke of security and continuity and expert recommendations, which were in fact often perceived as boring, staid, and sometimes elitist.
This historic referendum result represents, first and foremost, the biggest rebellion by ordinary British people since the uprising against the Poll Tax in 1989-and all they had to do to achieve this revolt was go to a polling station and mark an 'X' next to 'Leave' on the ballot.
What we must now concentrate on is how to make sure Britain can continue to progress and have a secure and sustainable future, and how to meet clear demands for change that the public ask for.