Time | In a stunning victory for the anti-establishment forces that have upended mainstream politics across the Western world, British voters chose on Thursday to pull their country out of the European Union, sending global markets into a tailspin and encouraging anti-E.U. forces across the continent to push for their own referenda on whether to break away.
“The E.U. is failing, the E.U. is dying,” declared the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage, one of the leaders of the campaign for the British exit, or Brexit, from the union formed from the ruins of Europe after World War II. “It’s a victory against big business…against big politics,” he told reporters early on Friday morning, as the results showed 52% of the votes had been cast in favor of leaving and 48% against.
That margin of victory – amounting to around 1.3 million votes – did not simply repudiate the British government’s calls for openness and unity with Europe. It also offered a blueprint for how ballot-box insurgencies across the West could, in the course of a single campaign, shatter the legitimacy of the ruling elites.
This formula is a familiar one, drawing fuel from a potent mix of xenophobia and angst over the loss of sovereignty and national identity. In the last couple of years, it has been deployed with explosive effects across Europe — and looks set to define the race for the U.S. presidency.
Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, just happened to arrive in the U.K. to open a golf resort as the final results were announced, and wasted no time in linking them to his own insurgent campaign. British voters had “taken their country back,” he said, echoing a slogan that has helped him win over the base, if not always the old guard, of the Republican Party.
“In a sense, the result of this referendum is a victory for Trumpism the world over,” says Tony Travers, a noted political scientist in London and adviser to the British parliament. “It definitely has the same roots.” Trump supporters, much like backers of Brexit, tend to feel that traditional parties have ignored their concerns over migration and economic inequality for too long. Their response has been a wide-ranging revolt against the status quo that has opened the political arena to a variety of upstart candidates for the first time in a generation or more.