On the day billed as “Independence Day”, the day that the British people would “take back control”, the people of the United Kingdom and Gibraltar went to the ballot boxes to deliver a result few in the establishment had considered possible.
Europe woke up on 24 June 2016 to the news that the British people had chosen to leave the European Union and that their prime minister, David Cameron, would be resigning.
“I will do everything I can as prime minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination,” he said outside 10 Downing Street.
Likewise, Nigel Farage, head of the UKIP party whose populist rhetoric instigated the referendum, threw in the towel, saying he “couldn’t possibly achieve more”.
Sterling slumped to a 31-year low as the world came to terms with uncertainty created by the unprecedented event that was unfolding.
Margins were slim, but a total of 17,410,742 people voted to leave, a mere 51.89 per cent of voters, while 16,141,241 (48.11 per cent)voted to stay.
The demographics made interesting reading. London, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly to stay, while the rest of England and Wales swayed the outcome.
This itself provoked talk of a second independence referendum in Scotland and for the question of Spanish sovereignty over Gibraltar was brought up once more. The referendum result was only the beginning as the factions continued to argue among themselves and more questions and doubts came to the fore than answers.
In particular, the “Remoaners”, as they have since been derogatively labelled, contested the grounds on which the referendum was held, accusing the Leave side of spreading false information, including the controversial ‘NHS bus’ which promised that leaving the EU would give the National Health Service 350 million pounds a week - a claim that has since been withdrawn. What’s more, the ‘15-year’ rule was brought back into the limelight after it was confirmed that some three million people, around 800,000 thought to be living in the EU, were to be excluded from the vote, despite being among those potentially most affected by the outcome of the referendum.
Several legal challenges were also mounted, including one which meant the triggering of Article 50 would have to go through Parliament first, but new prime minister Theresa May put paid to any lingering doubt by stating “Brexit means Brexit” as her leadership campaign to replace Cameron got under way.
A year, a general election and the triggering of Article 50 later, May’s premiership is under strain as her government goes into negotiations with a weakened hand and still many questions that need answering.