(JTA) – A majority of British voters said their country should leave the European Union, in a nonbinding referendum whose results prompted the resignation of British Prime Minister David Cameron and caused the British currency to crash.
Following the publication Friday of the results of Thursday’s vote, the British pound reached its lowest level since 1985 against the dollar, $1.35, as initial results showed a 52 per cent majority for the British exit, or Brexit. Cameron made the announcement in a statement outside Downing Street.
The results of the vote were compatible also with a near-equal split within the British Jewish community, where the “leave” camp had only a very slight majority according to a Jewish Chronicle survey from last month. The vote’s results prompted 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.
But Daniel Hannan, a British Jewish European Parliament member 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,” he wrote on Twitter, adding 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 Friday he would attempt to “steady the ship” over the coming weeks and months. He had urged the country to vote “Remain,” warning of economic and security consequences of an exit.
The June 23 vote on whether to “Brexit” or “Bremain,” as British media dubbed the options, followed 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 EU’s perceived infringement on British sovereignty. The move is seen as potentially destabilizing for the bloc.
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. But doing would erode public support for the government, according to an analysis by The Guardian newspaper.
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 policy of remaining in the European Union, the Financial Times reported. Corbyn in the past opposed British EU membership.