As the polls closed at 10pm yesterday, most commentators thought that the Remain campaign had won a marginal victory. In the international money markets, Sterling was rallying, and Remain-supporting politicians arrived at TV studios with optimistic briefings from their strategists. Even Nigel Farage said that he thought the UK had missed out on Brexit. However, Remain’s confidence was quickly punctured by the initial results from Newcastle and Sunderland. Newcastle, expected to vote decisively to stay in the EU, only voted narrowly to remain, while the Leave campaign in Sunderland celebrated a thumping victory.
The early results in the North East set the pattern for the results that followed later in the night. The Leave vote in industrial and post-industrial areas, regarded as the Labour Party’s traditional heartlands, was significantly higher than expected. Canvassers for Remain reported that voters in many council estates were turning out in high numbers and overwhelmingly supporting Leave. Remain’s hopes were further dented by relatively low turnouts in Scotland, where Leave support was weak. The final result saw Leave triumph by over a million votes.
The prevailing mood following the Brexit vote is one of uncertainty. While uncertainty is inevitable in build-up to elections and referenda, it is difficult to recall an occasion where so little is known about the future following the announcement of a poll’s results. The Prime Minister has announced his resignation, there are rumours of a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, and Scotland’s future within the UK may be at risk. At the time of writing, there has been a significant sell-off on financial markets, with house builders on the FTSE 100 hit particularly badly. Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon’s share prices are down nearly 25%, amid increasing speculation that the UK could see a housing slowdown following the vote. Pre-referendum forecasts suggested that Brexit could significantly slow house price growth, especially in the south east of England.
There is also uncertainty about the longer-term impact of Brexit on the planning industry. Many of the environmental regulations within the sector, such as Environmental Impact Assessments, have their origins in EU directives. If Britain leaves the European Single Market (which is by no means certain), the UK government will no longer be bound by these directives, and have greater flexibility in setting environmental policy. The future of EU funding for large infrastructure projects and regional development is also unknown.
The phrase ‘political earthquake’ is often overused. However, there is no hyperbole in describing the referendum result as a truly seismic political and economic event. The dust has not yet settled, and post-referendum Britain is, for now at least, characterised by uncertainty.
This article was written by Account Executive Richard Parry