Disunited Kingdom - 4 divides that the Brexit vote has brought to the surface


The close but decisive result of the UK's referendum on whether to leave or remain inside the EU has highlighted a divided country.

With Scotland and Northern Ireland backing Remain there is the potential for a future break-up of the UK, but voters in England and Wales were also split along a number of fault lines.

So can the UK heal itself post-Brexit - or are more tough times ahead with the European issue still not truly settled? Here are four splits that the politicians need to grapple with.

1. Leave v Remain

PA graphic of EU referendum result

The final result was 52% in favour of Leave - but there were still more than 16 million people across the UK who cast their vote to Remain. Exiting the EU while trying to bridge this divide is going to be a mighty challenge for whoever ends up in 10 Downing Street next.

Perhaps that's why Boris Johnson's speech yesterday tried to strike a reassuring and not triumphalist tone. But will #the48percent be ready and willing to listen?

But of course the other 52 per cent can't just be ignored in favour of the status quo - after all, leaving any 'Bregetters' aside, they voted for change.

2. Young v old

Young anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate at the gates of Downing Street in central London after the UK voted to leave the European Union
Young anti-Brexit protesters in central London (Isabel Infantes/PA)

Polling data suggests that young people voted strongly in favour of staying in the EU and a picture of a generational divide has emerged.

Two surveys carried out on polling day found around three-quarters of voters under 25 wanted to stay in the EU, while around 60% of those aged over 65 opted to leave.

And a poll carried out for The Times at the Glastonbury festival found 78% had voted before setting off, with 83% saying they backed Remain and just 16% supporting Brexit.

Pro-European campaigners painted in blue demonstrate at the gates of Downing Street in central London after the UK voted to leave the European Union.
Pro-EU campaigners demonstrating at the gates of Downing Street (Isabel Infantes/PA)

On polling day 16 and 17-year-olds hijacked the #iVoted hashtag to share their frustration about not being able to have a say on their future, and some young voters shared their anger on social media - and even protesting outside Downing Street - after the win for Leave was confirmed.

But the referendum was democracy at work - not all young people disagreed with Brexit and an argument that older voters should have less say than younger ones soon gets into sticky territory.

3. Nations

A majority of voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland supported staying in the EU in contrast to the picture in England and Wales - a divide which could ultimately lead to the break-up of the UK as a union of nations.

The Scottish government is already taking steps towards a possible second referendum on independence, and there were demonstrations in Edinburgh and Glasgow to show support for migrants and protest against the "torrent of racism" they say was "unleashed" during the referendum campaign.

Protesters gathered outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, where a number of speakers addressed the crowds at an open mic event in the wake of the UK's Brexit vote.
Protesters gathered outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in the wake of Brexit vote (Hilary Duncanson/PA)

In Northern Ireland the Brexit vote has triggered a renewed debate on its constitutional position within the UK.

With the region backing Remain by 56% to 44%, Sinn Fein has insisted the time has come for a border poll on Irish unity but this has been rejected by the Democratic Unionists.

Irish premier Enda Kenny also said there was no evidence of a shift in the electorate for a border poll, but the referendum has certainly propelled the issue back to the top of the agenda.

Over in Wales people voted 52.5% in favour of leaving the EU - despite being heavily funded by Europe for a number of projects.

But with all that going on in Scotland and Northern Ireland, who's to say there won't also be a growing desire for a referendum on an independent Wales as well.

It'll certainly be all eyes on Scotland and the SNP over the next two years to see if the irreversible break-up of the UK is finally triggered.

4. UK society

Graphic showing how support for Leave varied across the UK

Support for Leave was especially concentrated in the Midlands, northern England and coastal voting areas, suggesting a big divide between these voters and those in richer metropolitan locations.

Polling carried out for former Tory party donor Lord Ashcroft showed Remain won the backing of 57% of middle class voters (in the top earning AB social group), while Leave was supported by 64% of working class voters (in the social group C2DEs).

A clear majority of university-educated voters went for Remain, while most people whose education ended at secondary school level or earlier supported Brexit.

A London taxi driver waves a Union Jack flag in Westminster, London after Britain voted to leave the European Union
London taxi driver waves a Union Flag after the Brexit vote (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Lord Ashcroft's data also showed white voters split 53% to 47% in favour of withdrawal, while 67% of Asians and 73% of black people opted for Remain. Religious divides were also highlighted with 58% of those describing themselves as Christian voting for Brexit, while 70% of Muslims wanted to stay in the EU.

Nearly half of Leave backers, 49%, cited the need to take decisions in the UK as their prime reason, while a third said it was to regain control over immigration.

It's no understatement that the EU vote on June 23rd 2016 will be a turning point for the history books. But the divides it has shone a spotlight on could well determine the next chapter.