Polls are now open across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where voters are deciding whether to either remain a member of the European Union or to leave the European Union. It’s home to the largest city in the European Union (London) and, with 64.9 million people, it’s the third-most populous state in the European Union, after Germany and France.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m. — that means that here on the east coast of the United States, polls will be closing at 5 p.m. ET, with the first results to arrive shortly thereafter. No official exit polls are being conducted, but private hedge funds are believed to have commissioned exit polls and early financial indictors could tell us know traders believe the result will go. In any event, the final result is expected to be announced by ‘breakfast time’ on Friday morning.
The United Kingdom joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973 under Conservative prime minister Edward Heath, after two failed attempts at membership, in each case vetoed by French president Charles de Gaulle.
It took precisely two years before a new administration, under Labour prime minister Harold Wilson, called a referendum on the country’s new membership in the European project. In 1975, British voters, by a margin of nearly 67%, approved of remaining in the EEC.
That has hardly spelled the end of troubles between the British and the European Union, of course. Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who became increasingly eurosceptic over her years in Downing Street, demanded (and received) a rebate of the amounts the British treasury sent to Europe annually. Though her successor, John Major, signed the Treaty of Maastricht that created the single currency, Britain’s fall from the ‘currency snake’ in September 1992, causing a financial panic on what would become known as ‘Black Wednesday.’ The issue of Europe lethally divided Major’s government for the next five years. Labour prime minister Tony Blair never brought his country into the eurozone, despite initial enthusiasm, nor did he ever worry much about brining it into the Schengen zone that eliminated internal European borders.
Prime minister David Cameron, bowing to pressure from eurosceptic Tories and from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), agreed to call a referendum, starting the countdown to today’s vote.
Since that time, Cameron narrowly survived a similar once-in-a-generation referendum in September 2014 on Scotland’s independence, won an unexpected absolute majority in May 2015’s general elections and clawed back only minor concessions from EU leaders last year in an attempt to ‘renegotiate’ British terms of membership in the European Union.
Cameron, for his part, has joined the ‘Remain’ campaign alongside much of his cabinet, including chancellor George Osborne, home secretary Theresa May, business secretary Sajid Javid and former foreign secretary William Hague. ‘Remain’ also boasts the leaders of most of Britain’s major political parties — Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Liberal Democratic leader Tim Farron, Scottish Nationalist Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, as well as all living former prime ministers — Major, Blair and Gordon Brown — and current London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Former London mayor Boris Johnson, along with former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, justice secretary Michael Gove and many other eurosceptic Tories have formed the backbone of the ‘Leave’ campaign, which marries them to UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage.
For further reading, here’s a look back on Suffragio‘s coverage of the referendum, stretching back all the way to 2013:
Why the Tories are so happy about their chances in Scotland
April 27, 2016
Obama’s credibility now on the line with Brexit vote
April 23, 2016
The smart (and cynical) politics behind Boris’s Brexit decision
February 22, 2016
How Scotland’s referendum will influence Brexit vote
February 21, 2016
Geoffrey Howe showed Britain the path forward on Europe
October 15, 2015
Four lessons Corbyn can learn from labour’s living former leaders
September 12, 2015
LIVE BLOG: UK election results
May 7, 2015
Handicapping the race to succeed Cameron as Tory leader
March 27, 2015
Why England needs a series of regional parliaments
September 22, 2014
Scottish referendum results: winners and losers
September 19, 2014
Scotland votes: should it stay or should it go?
September 18, 2014
How an independent Scotland could enter the EU
September 10, 2014
UKIP’s Farage is winning the British debate on Europe
April 2, 2014
Margaret Thatcher has died
April 8, 2013