A majority of British voters said that the UK should leave the European Union, in a nonbinding referendum whose results caused British Prime Minister David Cameron to resign and the British pound to crash.
After the results of the June 23 vote were publicized on June 24, the British pound reached its lowest level since 1985 against the US dollar, $1.35, as initial results showed a 52-percent majority for the British exit, or Brexit as the British media dubbed it. Cameron made the announcement that he would be resigning in a statement outside Downing Street.
The results of the vote were compatible with a near-equal split among the British Jewish community, where the “leave” camp had only a very slight majority according to a Jewish Chronicle survey from May 2016. The vote’s results sparked animated reactions in both camps.
David Hirsch, a prominent lecturer in sociology at the University of London, called the result a “huge boost to all racist and ethnic nationalist parties across Europe.” Hirsch, who is a Jewish and a dovish supporter of Israel, added on Facebook that “EU collapse is a real risk. There will be people in each state urging that the walls go up quickly against refugees and migrants.” He also called on the “English government to guarantee the status of EU citizens” in Britain.
However, Daniel Hannan, a British Jewish European Parliament lawmaker for the Conservative Party and a Brexit supporter, celebrated the result.
“I feel so proud to be British this morning. The hectoring, the bullying, the scare-stories failed to dent our resolve,” Hannan wrote on Twitter, adding that the result was an “Independence Day.” Britain’s partners in the European Union “should know that we will remain engaged,” Hannan wrote. “Taking back control of our laws doesn’t mean walking away from our allies.”
Cameron said on June 24 that he would attempt to “steady the ship” over the coming weeks and months. He had urged the country to vote “Remain,” and warned of economic and security consequences of an exit.
The June 23 vote to “Brexit” or to “Bremain,” as the British media dubbed the two options, came after December’s vote in Parliament to put the decision to a referendum amid growing concern in Britain over immigration into the European Union, including by 1.8 million newcomers since 2014 from the war-torn Middle East, and over the European Union’s perceived infringement on British sovereignty. The move is seen as potentially destabilizing for the European Union.
The prime minister may ignore the referendum’s results or put the issue up to a vote in parliament, where a majority is thought to be in favor of remaining in the European Union. However, according to an analysis by The Guardian newspaper, doing this would erode public support for the government.
The Financial Times reported that Jeremy Corbyn, the head of Britain’s Labour Party, is facing criticism within his party over his perceived failure to unite Labour voters behind his stated position of remaining in the European Union. Corbyn had opposed British European Union membership in the past.
After Cameron announced his resignation on June 24, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heaped praise on Cameron saying in a statement that Cameron is a “respected leader and a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Without directly addressing the results of the referendum, Netanyahu said that throughout Cameron’s premiership, “the security, economic and technological cooperation between the United Kingdom and Israel has greatly expanded,” and that “together we laid a strong foundation for continued cooperation.”
Netanyahu echoed sentiments made earlier by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan who said he was “sad” to see Cameron resign, and called Cameron a “fair, responsible” politician, a “real gentleman,” and friend to Israel.
Erdan also praised Cameron for his support of Israel.
Cameron demonstrated a “profound friendship toward Israel” as prime minister, added Erdan, “and recently led an important decision against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.”
In his speech on June 24, Cameron promised to try to “steady the ship” over the next months and did not give a precise timetable for his departure, but said that a new leader should be installed by early October.
“I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination,” Cameron said outside his Downing Street residence in London.
Cameron said that his successor should trigger the formal process for the UK to leave the European Union.
“I think it’s right that this new prime minister takes the decision about when to trigger Article 50,” Cameron said.
“I would also reassure Brits living in European countries and European citizens living here that there will be no immediate changes in your circumstances,” he said.
Flanked by his wife, Samantha, Cameron said he had fought to retain Britain’s membership of the EU “head, heart and soul — I held nothing back.”
However, Cameron added: “The British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path and, as such, I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.”
The final results showed that Britons decided to leave the European Union by 52 percent to 48 percent, which was a margin of more than one million votes.