The night of hope and despair



Voting in the referendum on exiting the European Union ended in the UK at 10 p.m. local time. At that time, guarded optimism prevailed both within the country and without; everyone – even Eurosceptics – was sure, or at least tended towards the view that victory would belong to Remain supporters.

Even Nigel Farage, leader of the eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and chief disciple of the Brexit idea said the following just after the polling stations closed down: “Looks like Remain will edge it” (Sky News). A YouGov poll, not an exit poll but published in the first moments after the referendum, also had similar information – 52:48 in favour of everything staying the same.

The first real data on the results arrived in just before midnight. Gibraltar, a British Overseas territory, predictably voted to remain in the EU by an overwhelming majority – 95.9%. The country entered the new day with the perhaps shaky, but at least soothing, feeling that victory belonged to supporters of the status quo.

24 June, 00:30

The first shock occurred when it became clear that 61.3% of the voters in Sunderland (North East England) came out against the EU. The residents of a city dependent on foreign investment had ended up being unexpectedly strong opponents of European integration. Sunday Times Political Editor Tim Shipman later writes that Sunderland has become the new indicator of the overall national mood.

Meanwhile, this individual outcome initially triggered a precipitous drop for the pound sterling. But like a boxer after a knock-down, the national currency quickly bounced back. There was a whole night ahead and the likelihood remained high that previous calculations were indeed correct.

02:00 Brexit supporters continued holding a minimal lead in the overall total, and it was obvious how this circumstance increasingly unnerved politicians, traders and bookmakers. Although no major unexpected outcomes were being reported, politicians ever more frequently expressed the supposition that the gap may be far tighter than earlier presumed. Bookmakers and traders reacted speculatively as data became available. Moreover, observing how political activists’ emotions and traders’ quotes changed, it was impossible to understand if the markets were reacting to the results or the activists were finding confirmation of their expectations in the market charts, or both.
02:30 A ray of hope for pro-European forces. Thanks to results in London, Oxford and Scotland, supporters of EU membership finally pulled ahead. Now it was time for Eurosceptics to reply that it was not yet morning.

Nuneaton is an unremarkable town in the Midlands with a population of less than 100 thousand people. Last year, in general elections, the outcome of the vote there ended up being a bellwether. Thus the close attention paid to it by journalists and political analysts.

Preliminary forecasts varied widely: some gave a tiny advantage to Leave supporters; others said that they could get 70 or 80%. The reality was no less impressive: the Eurosceptics got 66%.

This outcome could have no real impact on the general position of both sides, but it was significant for psychological and mathematical indicators. Nuneaton forced specialists to once again reconsider their predictive models, and it also caused an increase in the number of those starting to predict victory for the Eurosceptics.

03:20 Remain supporters stayed in the lead for about another hour. In contrast to what had been expected, their defeats were bigger and their victories – humbler. After a sequence of such outcomes, Brexit supporters surged ahead afresh.

Clr7-_jWIAADhJcDawn in the UK that day formally started at 03:56, but seeing how it is only an 11-minute difference, it will be no great exaggeration to say that a new wave of panic swept across bookmakers’ and traders’ offices as the sun’s first rays fell over England. The earlier models, if anyone had any hope left in them, had ceased to meet expectations.

The results in Sheffield and Nottingham, large cities in the north and central parts of England, dealt sequential blows to the pro-European forces. Although the Eurosceptic majority turned out to be minimal there, it was large enough to plunge everyone into shock.  “The division between London and the rest of England has never looked deeper and starker than it does right now,” wrote University of Manchester professor Rob Ford.

The likelihood of a victory for Brexit supporters started being assessed as inevitable. “I now dare to dream that the dawn is coming up on an independent United Kingdom,” wrote Nigel Farage.


The sensation of total defeat has spread to all. The pound sterling dropped to new historical lows, an anti-record of the “Black Wednesday” of 1992. If that day was called “black”, what should we call this one, asked lead political correspondent for the Financial Times Jim Pickard. “Freaky Friday?” suggested Professor Simon Hix from the London School of Economics.


“I’m in shock. David Cameron’s gamble has failed. His career is over,” wrote John Rentoul,  chief political commentator at the Independent, in desperation.


It is all over. Although the counting continues, no one any longer has any doubt about the outcome of the referendum. The Brexit supporters are already ahead by around 600,000 votes.

The pound sterling dropped to a 30-year low. “I see that even the Zimbabwe currency is now gaining ground against the UK pound,” wrote former prime minister of Sweden Carl Bildt, highlighting the tragedy of the situation.

Nigel Farage, not concealing his joy, makes one statement after another. His appearances are compared with the emotional tirade unleashed by a Norwegian commentator in 1981 when Norway beat England in the World Championship qualifier. Only now have all those predicting or supporting the UK’s membership in the EU, inside and outside the country, become the object of ridicule. “Goldman Sachs, Barack Obama, Jeremy Heywood… Your guys got a helluva beating,” The Times columnist Tim Montgomerie rephrased the Norwegian’s words to fit the referendum.

“This is when we realise that Farage has been the most influential politician in decades, and he never even became an MP,” wrote the Telegraph’s Peter Spence. The Financial Times also writes in its live blog about how it is the UKIP leader, namely, who is responsible for dramatically changing of the course of British history.

04:20 Birmingham, the second largest city in the UK, voted to leave the EU – 50.4%: 49.6%.
04:39 ITV and BBC announced the victory of those advocating Great Britain’s exit from the EU. Sky News followed suit.

In the camp of the pro-European forces.


07:20 Official results announced: 51.9% for leaving, 49.1% for remaining in the EU. There was a difference of nearly 1.3 million persons.


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