Brexit: All You Need To Know About The UK’s EU Referendum

An easy-to-understand guide explaining Brexit and the UK's vote to leave the European Union
An easy-to-understand guide explaining Brexit and the UK's vote to leave the European Union

Social media is exploding today with stories about the UK voting to leave the European Union and David Caermon announcing that he is stepping down as prime minister. What does it all mean? Here’s an easy-to-understand guide that will help explain everything.

What has happened?

A referendum – a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part – was held on Thursday June 23, to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union.

Leave won by 52% to 48%.

The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting. It was the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election.

What was the breakdown across the UK?

England voted strongly for Brexit, by 53.4% to 46.6%, as did Wales, with Leave getting 52.5% of the vote and Remain 47.5%.

Scotland and Northern Ireland both backed staying in the EU. Scotland backed Remain by 62% to 38%, while 55.8% in Northern Ireland voted Remain and 44.2% Leave.

What is the European Union?

The European Union – often known as the EU – is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries. It began after World War Two to foster economic co-operation, with the idea that countries which trade together are more likely to avoid going to war with each other.

It has since grown to become a “single market” allowing goods and people to move around, basically as if the member states were one country.

It has its own currency, the euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries, its own parliament and it now sets rules in a wide range of areas – including on the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things such as mobile phone charges.

What does Brexit mean?

It is a word that has become used as a shorthand way of saying the UK leaving the EU – merging the words Britain and exit to get Brexit, in a same way as a Greek exit from the EU was dubbed Grexit in the past.

What happens now?

For the UK to leave the EU it has to invoke an agreement called Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Cameron or his successor needs to decide when to invoke this – that will then set in motion the formal legal process of withdrawing from the EU, and give the UK two years to negotiate its withdrawal.

The article has only been in force since late 2009 and it hasn’t been tested yet, so no-one really knows how the Brexit process will work, according to BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman.

Mr Cameron, who has said he would be stepping down as PM by October, said he will go to the European Council next week to “explain the decision the British people have taken”.

EU law still stands in the UK until it ceases being a member – and that process could take some time.

The UK will continue to abide by EU treaties and laws, but not take part in any decision-making, as it negotiates a withdrawal agreement and the terms of its relationship with the now 27 nation bloc.

Who wanted the UK to leave the EU?

The UK Independence Party, which won the last European elections, and received nearly four million votes – 13% of those cast – in May’s general election, campaigned for Britain’s exit from the EU.

About half of Conservative MPs, including five cabinet ministers, several Labour MPs and the DUP were also in favour of leaving.

What were their reasons for wanting the UK to leave?

They said Britain was being held back by the EU, which they said imposed too many rules on business and charged billions of pounds a year in membership fees for little in return. They also wanted Britain to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming here to live and/or work.

One of the main principles of EU membership is “free movement”, which means you don’t need to get a visa to go and live in another EU country. The Leave campaign also objected to the idea of “ever closer union” and what they see as moves towards the creation of a “United States of Europe”.

Who wanted the UK to stay in the EU?

Prime Minister David Cameron wanted Britain to stay in the EU. He sought an agreement with other European Union leaders to change the terms of Britain’s membership.

Has any other member state ever left the EU?

No nation state has ever left the EU. But Greenland, one of Denmark’s overseas territories, held a referendum in 1982, after gaining a greater degree of self-government, and voted by 52% to 48% to leave, which it duly did after a period of negotiation.

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