United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, known within the United Kingdom as the EU referendum, was a non-binding referendum that took place on Thursday 23 June 2016 in the UK and Gibraltar to gauge support for the country's continued membership of the European Union. The referendum resulted in an overall vote to leave the EU, as opposed to remaining an EU member, by 51.9% to 48.1%, respectively. The vote was split between the constituent countries of the United Kingdom, with a majority in England and Wales voting to leave, and a majority in Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to remain.
Membership of the EU and its predecessors was a topic of debate in the United Kingdom before the country joined the European Economic Community (EEC, or "Common Market") in 1973, and subsequently. In accordance with a Conservative Party manifesto commitment, the legal basis for a referendum was established by the UK Parliament through the European Union Referendum Act 2015. It was the second time the British electorate had been asked to vote on the issue of the UK's membership: the first referendum was held in 1975, when continued membership was approved by 67% of voters.
Britain Stronger in Europe was the main group campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU, and Vote Leave the main group campaigning for it to leave. Many other campaign groups, political parties, businesses, trade unions, newspapers and prominent individuals were also involved. Those who favoured a British withdrawal from the European Union – commonly referred to as a Brexit (a portmanteau of "British" and "exit") – argued that the EU had a democratic deficit and that being a member undermined national sovereignty, while those who favoured membership argued that in a world with many supranational organisations any loss of sovereignty was compensated by the benefits of EU membership. Those who wanted to leave the EU argued that it would: allow the UK to better control immigration, thus reducing pressure on public services, housing and jobs; save billions of pounds in EU membership fees; allow the UK to make its own trade deals; and free the UK from EU regulations and bureaucracy that they saw as needless and costly. Those who wanted to remain argued that leaving the EU would risk the UK's prosperity; diminish its influence over world affairs; jeopardise national security by reducing access to common European criminal databases; and result in trade barriers between the UK and the EU. In particular, they argued that it would lead to job losses, delays in investment into the UK and risks to business.
Financial markets reacted negatively to the outcome: share prices fell drastically, as did the value of the pound sterling (5–10% during the initial hours after the decision). The referendum was precipitated by internal fighting within the governing Conservative party, and the Prime Minister David Cameron stated he would resign as his side lost the referendum. The Scottish Government announced on 24 June 2016 that officials would plan for a "highly likely" second referendum on independence from the United Kingdom in response to the result, and the Scottish Government announced that it will start "discussions with the EU institutions and other member states to explore all the possible options to protect Scotland’s place in the EU."
To enable the referendum to take place across the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, two pieces of legislation were enacted. The first of these, the European Union Referendum Act 2015, was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom and received the Royal Assent on 17 December 2015. The second, the European Union (Referendum) Act 2016, was passed by the Gibraltar Parliament to allow the referendum to take place in Gibraltar and received the Royal Assent on 28 January 2016.
The planned referendum was included in the Queen's Speech on 27 May 2015. It was suggested at the time that Cameron was planning to hold the referendum in October 2016, but the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which authorised it, went before the House of Commons the following day, just three weeks after the election. On the bill's second reading on 9 June, members of the House of Commons voted by 544 to 53 in favour of it, endorsing the principle of holding a referendum, with only the Scottish National Party voting against. In contrast to the Labour Party's position prior to the 2015 general election under Miliband, acting Labour leader Harriet Harman committed her party to supporting plans for an EU referendum by 2017.
Guidelines by the Charity Commission for England and Wales that forbid political activity for registered charities have kept them silent on the EU poll. According to Simon Wessely, head of psychological medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London – neither a special revision of the guidelines from 7 March 2016, nor Cameron's encouragement have made health organisations, most of which support the remain campaign, willing to speak out.
A June 2016 survey of UK fishermen found that 92% intended to vote to leave the EU. The EU's Common Fisheries Policy was mentioned as a central reason for their near-unanimity.More than three-quarters believed that they would be able to land more fish, and 93% stated that leaving the EU would benefit the fishing industry.
In May 2016, more than 300 historians wrote in a joint letter to The Guardian that Britain could play a bigger role in the world as part of the EU. They said: “As historians of Britain and of Europe, we believe that Britain has had in the past, and will have in the future, an irreplaceable role to play in Europe.”
The referendum has been criticized for denying young people younger than 18 years a right to vote in the referendum. Unlike in the referendum about the Scottish independence in 2014 also the age-group of the 16-17 year old citizens were excluded from the vote. It was criticized that those who have to live with the consequences of the referendum for the longest time were excluded from the vote. Supporters of an inclusion of young voters consider the exclusion as a violation of the democratic principle and a severe deficit of the referendum. Opinion polls conducted during the votes for the referendum show that the excluded voters would have voted with an overwhelming majority for remain and that an inclusion of the age-group of 16-17 year old citizens would have lead to a win of the remain campaign.
As chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Chief Counting Officer (CCO) Jenny Watson announced the final result of the referendum was to leave (combining all 12 regional counts from across the UK and Gibraltar) in Manchester Town Hall on 24 June 2016.
United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016
Choice Votes %
Leave the European Union 17,410,742 51.89
Remain a member of the European Union 16,141,241 48.11
Valid votes 33,551,983 99.92
Invalid or blank votes 25,359 0.08
Total votes 33,577,342 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 46,501,241 72.2%