British voters take to polls today for historic EU referendum vote

After years of preparation, it's now up to voters to make their choice.
After years of preparation, it’s now up to voters to make their choice.

So it’s finally here.United Kingdom Flag Icon

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:

Leave campaign’s immigration emphasis could trump Brexit economics
June 23, 2016

Why British sovereignty would be even weaker after leaving the European Union
June 22, 2016

Long before Brexit came Greenlandexit — and a corresponding boost to Greenland’s economy
June 21, 2016

Brexit vote is England’s parallel to Scottish independence referendum
June 20, 2016

Jo Cox’s assassination will forever mar the Brexit referendum
June 16, 2016

Nationalists hope to thrive in quiet Welsh elections
May 4, 2016

Meet the Muslim, 2nd generation Pakistani-British politician set to lead London
May 2, 2016

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

How Corbyn can use Brexit to reinvigorate his Labour leadership
April 18, 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

Seven things to watch for in Cameron’s next government
May 8, 2015

Seven things to watch for in Cameron’s next government
May 8, 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

A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results
May 26, 2014

UKIP’s Farage is winning the British debate on Europe
April 2, 2014

Miliband’s EU hedge makes a disastrous referendum more likely
March 13, 2014

E! Sharp: On Europe, the real question for the UK is whether it wants separation or divorce
September 15, 2013

A tale of two referenda — how the EU debate could poison the Scotland debate
May 20, 2013

Margaret Thatcher has died
April 8, 2013

A bad day for Boris — London mayor called ‘nasty piece of work’ in interview
March 25, 2013

Clarke’s pro-Europe tone highlights referendum risk to UK Tories from the center
January 31, 2013

The National Interest: From Heath to Wilson to Thatcher to Cameron: Continuity in EU-UK relations
January 28, 2013

EurActiv: Taking a deeper look at Cameron’s EU speech and UK relations with Europe
January 25, 2013

Cameron pledges 2013 EU referendum: ‘It is time for the British people to have their say’
January 23, 2013

 

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