Britain votes to leave European Union


LONDON (AP) — The Chairwoman of United Kingdom Electoral Commission officially declares that Britain has voted to leave the European Union.

The Bank of England says it’s ready to take “all necessary steps” to help keep Britain stable after voters chose to leave the 28-nation EU.

The results of the vote Thursday have shaken global markets and caused the pound to tank, which will cause a slide in inflation, a major concern for the central bank.

Investors are also poised to dump British stocks as soon as the market opens in London on Friday.

The bank says Friday it had prepared with extensive contingency planning and “is working closely with HM Treasury, other domestic authorities and overseas central banks.”

The bank says it will take “all necessary steps” to meet its responsibilities for monetary and fiscal stability.

The United States is reacting cautiously to Britain’s decision, with a White House official saying only that President Barack Obama is being kept up to date on developments.

The official said Obama was expected to speak with British Prime Minister David Cameron “over the course of the next day.”

Obama has encouraged Britain to remain in the EU but has said the decision ultimately was up to British voters.

Meanwhile, analysts are cutting their estimates for Britain’s economic growth after the historic vote, ushering in a period of high uncertainty that is likely to shake businesses, consumers and markets for some time.

Howard Archer, the global economist for IHS Global Insight, says his research group is slashing its growth forecast for this year to 1.5 percent from 2.0 percent and, more dramatically, to 0.2 percent for next year from 2.4 percent previously.

Archer expects the Bank of England to switch from hoping to raise interest rates soon to cutting them by a quarter point to 0.25 percent before long.

He says: “Major economic and political uncertainty will be a fact of life for some considerable time, likely weighing down markedly on business and household confidence and behavior, so dampening corporate investment, employment and consumer spending.”

Analysts at Capital Economics have the same growth forecasts for 2016 but are more hopeful about 2017, seeing 1.5 percent growth.

In France, far-right leader Marine Le Pen says there should be a similar referendum about EU membership in France.

“A victory for Freedom,” Le Pen tweeted. “We now need the same referendum in France and in EU nations.”

In the Netherlands, her ally Geert Wilders of the far-right PVV party also immediately called for a similar plebiscite.

Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent on Thursday to leave the EU to take greater control of the country’s economy and its borders.

In Brussels, top European Union officials are hunkering down, trying to work out how to navigate uncharted waters after Britain’s departure.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is hosting talks Friday with the leaders of the European Council and Parliament, along with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

The four will try to agree a European position on the vote, after a member country left the bloc for the first time ever.

An summit of EU leaders in Brussels starts on Tuesday.

Parliamentary leaders were meeting separately, and European commissioners — the EU’s executive body — could hold separate talks later.

The head of the biggest political bloc in the European Parliament says the U.K. vote to leave the EU is damaging but that the decision is for Britain, not the European Union.

European People’s Party chairman Manfred Weber says Friday that the vote “causes major damage to both sides, but in first line to the U.K.”

Weber added that “this was a British vote, not a European vote. People in the other states don’t want to leave Europe.”

One of the leaders of the victorious `leave’ campaign has reassured the European Union that Britain will continue to be a good neighbor after its unprecedented vote to leave the bloc.

Labour lawmaker Gisela Stuart, who was born in Germany, spoke in German to say that “Britain is an open society, it is a welcoming society and we will continue to be cooperating with European countries on an international level.”

“It is incumbent on all of us to be very calm, remember that our responsibility is to the future of the United Kingdom, and work together to start a process,” Stuart said.

She says “in the long run, I think that both Europe and the United Kingdom will emerge stronger as a result.”

Veteran Labour lawmaker Keith Vaz says “this is a crushing, crushing decision. This is a terrible day for Europe.”

Green lawmaker Caroline Lucas said she was devastated by the news, blaming “alienation, anger and frustration” for the results of Thursday’s vote.

“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, a prominent “remain” campaigner, says “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted magic more” in a Twitter message.

Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon says her country cast an “unequivocal” vote to remain in the European Union — a result that raises the specter of a new referendum on Scottish independence.

Sturgeon said “the vote here makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union.”

All 32 voting areas in Scotland voted to stay in the EU, but they were outnumbered by a strong English “leave” vote.

Scotland rejected independence from the UK in its own 2014 referendum, but Friday’s result gives new momentum to the cause.

Britain’s vote to leave the 28-nation European Union is likely to cost Prime Minister David Cameron his job.

The leader of the ruling Conservative Party had staked his reputation on keeping Britain in the EU.

Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, the most prominent supporter of the “leave” campaign, is now seen as a leading contender to replace Cameron.

Cameron promised the referendum to appease the right wing of his own party and blunt a challenge from the U.K. Independence Party, which pledged to leave the EU.

After winning a majority in Parliament in the last election, Cameron negotiated a package of reforms that he said would protect Britain’s sovereignty and prevent EU migrants from moving to the U.K. to claim public benefits.

Critics charged that the reforms were hollow, leaving Britain at the mercy of bureaucrats in Brussels and doing nothing to stem the tide of European immigrants coming to the U.K. Those concerns were magnified after more than 1 million people from the Middle East and Africa flooded into the EU last year.

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