By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Elisabeth O’Leary
LONDON/EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Britons reacted with shock on Friday to their country’s decision to leave the European Union, whether they welcomed “independence” day or were horrified by the outcome.
The vote, after a bitter campaign, split the country along several faultlines, old vs young, England and Wales vs Scotland and Northern Ireland and people in northern England suffering economic hardship vs richer city dwellers in the south.
It went down to the wire before ending in a 52-48 percent win for Brexit in the early hours of Friday, prompting celebrations by “Leave” campaigners and their supporters for a move they said would make Britain stronger.
In London, where residents voted overwhelmingly to remain in the bloc Britain joined more than 40 years ago, the morning commute into the financial district was grim for many City workers worried their jobs would be at risk.
“What now?” commuter Steve Jones said. “That is the big unknown and right now it is looking pretty bleak.”
In Manchester in northern England, retiree Janet Hartley, who voted to leave the EU, said the campaign leading up to the referendum had been confusing, with politicians talking “rubbish”, but that Britain would now be better off.
“We should have our independence instead of being ruled by a lot of bureaucrats sitting earning lots of money doing sod-all,” she said, using a slang term for nothing.
She was one of many older voters who chose Brexit; the young mostly favored staying in and many took to social media to vent their frustration, with #whathavewedone trending on Twitter.
“It’s us who will have to suffer the consequences,” said Twitter user @Kean_Smith.
Most people in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain while England and Wales opted to leave, raising questions over the future of the United Kingdom they all belong to.
“It’s a bit shocking, it’s put a lot of uncertainty into Scotland over the next couple of years. This has split us right down the middle,” said Catherine, 41, from the Scottish city of Aberdeen.
The pro-Brexit side drew support from millions of voters who felt left behind by globalization and blamed EU immigration for low wages and stretched public services.
“I think it’s tremendous, its a good thing,” Duncan, a 70-year-old part-time chauffeur, said as he buffed up the seats of his car in Edinburgh, adding that he thought it would help the economy and allow limits on who comes to Britain.
“Britain is sinking under the weight of population.”
Brexit campaigners played down the financial turmoil unleashed by the result as global markets plunged and the pound fell against the dollar to levels last seen in 1985 on fears for the future of the world’s fifth-largest economy.
It will take at least two years of messy negotiations with the EU before the process of separation is complete.
Laura Clarke, a city worker, said she was devastated and called it economic insanity.
Other voters welcomed the chance to voice their disenchantment with the European Union.
“I just think the EU has gone on longer than it needs to be,” Londoner Steve Kennedy said. “It’s just gone on too long, it’s become something it’s not meant to be and I think in the end it’s better for us to be out.”
Michael Elborn, who works in the technology sector with start ups, was on his way to a meeting with CEOs in London, said the referendum should never have been called.
“There’s serious discontent in the country, politicians aren’t listening to the general public. But I also think there’s a severe lack of leadership,” he said. “If money goes out of the system and big businesses freeze up, my job is gone.”
Even some who chose Brexit said it would not be plain sailing.
“Now we’re going to have to trade from outside the EU, food prices, petrol prices… that’s all going to rise. We’re all going to have to foot the bill for it, but I’m hoping it won’t be anything too drastic,” said Lauren Smedley, a 24-year old child minder who lives just outside London and favored Brexit.
Britons around Europe, who have made use of the bloc’s right to free movement to settle in other countries, were pondering whether to take on different citizenship to avoid bureaucratic headaches.
“It’s a great shame. Britain should stay close to Europe, it shows a little-island mentality and now there’s a lot of uncertainty. Lots of expats will be wondering what to do,” said Caroline Taylor, a 43-year old schoolteacher in Berlin.
Peter Varcoe, who is resident in the town of Sarzeau in Brittany, and has lived in France for 11 years, called the outcome “a crushing blow”.
“I find it quite embarrassing for somebody living in France. How on earth can I explain this to French people, French friends?” he said.
Bill Pairman, a self-employed translator, who has lived in Madrid for nearly 30 years, said he would consider taking on Spanish nationality as a result.
“I doubt I’ll be deported, but there could be all sorts of issues I imagine,” he said.
In the Spanish Mediterranean resort of Javea, southwest of Valencia, British residents were fretting about what will happen to their pensions, house prices and the value of the pound.
“The EU hasn’t been given enough generations to work yet. I’m English and I will never fit in here entirely. But that’s just one generation,” said 56-year-old Jane Rudlen.
Patricia Philson, who retired to Spain, was worried the Brexit vote would have far-reaching consequences for Britain: “We’re not going to have a United Kingdom for much longer.”
Even those who voted in favor of Britain leaving were surprised at the result.
Duncan Evans, who runs a boutique guesthouse and holiday home rental business with his wife near Albi in southwestern France, said he did not believe when he cast his vote that those backing “Leave” would prevail.
“I voted to leave, my principal reason was one of sovereignty, governance, or determining our own governance,” he said. “I’m just in shock.”
(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers and Caroline Copley in BERLIN, Andy Callus and Richard Lough in PARIS, Conor Humphries in MANCHESTER, Emily Roe, Amanda Cooper, Gayle Issa and William James in LONDON, and David Graham in JAVEA, Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Timothy Heritage)