After the Brexit: Media Reaction to the UK Vote to Leave the EU

Many British media outlets were vociferous about their support ahead of the referendum and have maintained that standard since the results.

A Brexit supporter holds a Union Flag at a Vote Leave rally in London. Credit:Reuters

A Brexit supporter holds a Union Flag at a Vote Leave rally in London. Credit:Reuters

The UK has voted to leave the European Union in a historic referendum dubbed the ‘Brexit’. In a contest that went down to the wire, the leave camp emerged victorious with 51.9% of the vote.

Given the unprecedented historic nature of the vote, financial markets have reacted as expected to the UK exiting the European grouping – world financial markets dived and the pound suffered its biggest one-day fall in history, plunging more than 10% against the dollar to hit levels last seen in 1985. The vote heralds the biggest global financial shock since the 2008 economic crisis, this time with interest rates around the world already at or near zero, stripping policymakers of the means to fight it, Reuters reports.

The Brexit debate divided the UK polity in the run up to the June 23 vote, and many, including those in government, held disparaging views. Prime Minister David Cameron, for instance, helmed the remain camp, a decision that has since led him to announce his resignation in light of the Brexit verdict. Scores of Conservative MPs, including justice secretary Michael Gove and former London mayor Boris Johnson, backed Britain leaving the union.

The BBC was among the first to call the result while the votes were still being counted. Many British media outlets were vociferous about their support ahead of the referendum, and have maintained that standard since the results.

BBC calls the Brexit result.

BBC calls the Brexit result.

“Cameron is finished”

Ahead of Cameron announcing his resignation, The Telegraph called the vote the end of the prime minister. “David Cameron is finished, heading for a place in history as the prime minister who gambled with Britain’s place in the EU and his own career, and lost.”

The Guardian, a paper that makes no bones about its generally liberal bent, declared its support for the remain camp on May 9 in an editorial that read, “The Guardian will make no apology, between now and June 23, for making the case for Britain in Europe as clearly, as honestly and as insistently as possible.” In a piece published in the early hours of June 24, when the results of the vote were clear, the Guardian referred to Brexit as an “earthquake”, “the rubble [from which] will take years to clear”.

It continued, “Politics as practised for a generation is upended; traditional party allegiances are shredded; the prime minister’s authority is bust – and that is just the parochial domestic fallout. A whole continent looks on in trepidation. It was meant to be unthinkable, now the thought has become action. Europe cannot be the same again”.

On the other end of the spectrum the Daily Mail, the UK’s second best-selling newspaper, came out in support of the UK leaving the EU on June 21. In the run up to the vote, it featured headlines such as “Four Big EU Lies” on its front page, and wrote in a different piece, “The historic result could see us embarking on a path to an enlightened era of prosperous global trade, freed from the shackles of unelected Brussels bureaucracy. Or if you listen to the Remain camp, it could be the end of Western civilisation, with the continent descending into war and pensioners going hungry”.

The Economist, which backed remaining, titled its primary post-Brexit feature “A Tragic Split” and identified the driving force behind the leave camp as “angry populism”.  It ended another piece titled, “After the Vote, Chaos” by saying, “This vote will reverberate for years. The economy will suffer, as will the political establishment. June 23rd will be a landmark in British and European history”.

The Times also asserted its pro-remain stance, despite its proprietor, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, being sceptical of Brussels. Known for being the paper of choice for the economic and political elite, it announced which outcome it favours with the headline, “Why Remain is Best for Britain” and posited that a vote for leaving would create “unknown and alarming consequences” for the UK and Europe.

Taking a harsher line on Brexit, the Irish Times lambasted the leave camp, and called the possibility of leaving a “nightmare”.

International media reaction

Across many non-UK European publications, forecasts were dire and pro-remain sentiments were widespread. In an editorial, French broadsheet Le Monde stated, “…don’t let the sirens of a fake independence pull you away from the continent. Just as in 1815, your future is in Europe.”

Leading German publication Bild ran a headline that dubbed the result “Europe’s Darkest Day” and featured an earlier headline that commented, quite plainly, “What a Brex-shit”. Swedish business newspaper Dagens Industri read, “We are all like you – proud and headstrong with special relationships to each other. And we have a club. Don’t leave it.”

Across the Atlantic, many media outlets took a disparaging view of the vote. The New York Times highlighted the misguided and “ill-defined frustration” that propelled Euroskepticism, and wrote, “This British version of “make America great again” is every bit as illusory as Donald Trump’s slogan — and just as potentially dangerous, for Britain and for its European and North American partners.”

The Los Angeles Times said “British voters willfully walked off a cliff” by deciding to leave the EU, and that the vote “is a defeat for Britain, Europe and the global economy”.