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U.K's Decision To Leave The EU Ushers In Regret And Disarray


Both the Conservative and Labour parties are facing shake-ups. Businesses and financial markets are seeking reassurance. And there's very little clarity about when and how the disengagement pointed to by Brexit will take place. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in London. Welcome.


WERTHEIMER: So Peter, we've been hearing about Leave voters who now want to back off that decision. What can you tell us about that?

KENYON: Well, on social media, they're called Bregretters. A lot of them have, frankly, stopped talking to the media, once they go public, they just get savaged online. But I did reach one of those Leave voters last night. His name is Michael Gibson (ph). He was actually working the night shift at a bakery in Cheshire in northwest England. So on his break, he - we talked on his cell phone.

He told me he'd voted to leave the EU, not because of fears about immigration, but because of money that might come in. There was 350 million pounds a month promised for the National Health Service, money to schools, police, that sort of thing. And now the vote's over, he says, those promises are just disappearing. Here's how he put it.

MICHAEL GIBSON: What they promised to get my vote, they said, we can't do that now. And to me, I feel like, I've been lied and cheated out of my vote 'cause that's how they won my vote.

KENYON: Now, Leave campaign leaders have been back peddling. That 350 million - nope. Don't expect it on immigration, taking control of the borders. Boris Johnson, the Leave campaigner says, well, the first thing is to keep access to the EU single market. And that might well force Britain to compromise on things like immigration controls. And this is what's irritating people out in the country like Michael Gibson. He says his wife also voted to leave. And now they're both sitting there wondering if they've made a big mistake. Here's what he said.

GIBSON: And she's, like - I don't think we've made the right choice here. I mean, I believe in Britain. But I just don't believe in the government now. I just - we seem to be left in the dark mow. I just - we seem to be left in the dark now. There seems to be no plan put in place to what is going to happen to us.

WERTHEIMER: Do these second thoughts, do you think, seem likely to lead to any real reconsideration of the referendum?

KENYON: I wouldn't expect so, no. And certainly, so far, everybody who's commented on it in both the Leave or Remain camps has a - basically the same message. What's done is done. People have spoken. And now we've got a big job. And that's to get ready for some two years of long and difficult negotiations with the European Union.

WERTHEIMER: Now markets were shaken by the news late last week. What do you think's going to happen this week?

KENYON: A lot of people are worried about that. Banks are warning jobs may have to be shifted to continental Europe. Businesses like carmaker Aston Martin say they urgently need some sign of stability. The chancellor, George Osborne, who's the treasury secretary here, effectively, made an early-morning statement basically designed to reassure the markets just before they opened. Here's a bit of what he said.


GEORGE OSBORNE: I said we had to fix the roof so that we were prepared for whatever the future held. And thank goodness we did. As a result, our economy is about as strong as it could be come to confront the challenge our country now faces.

KENYON: And the markets will be somewhat pleased to hear that. But there's a lot that wasn't said. During the campaign, Osborne warned that any Leave vote would mean an immediate, emergency budget, is what he called it, just full of spending cuts. Now he says, well, there will be some adjustments at some point in the future. So yet another campaign pledge appears to be disappearing.

WERTHEIMER: I gather that the political turmoil running through Britain's parties continued through the weekend. Bring us up to date on that.

KENYON: Well, you start with the opposition Labour Party. They're definitely shaken up and stirred. Jeremy Corbyn is their controversial leader. He's beloved by the working-class voters in London. He's viewed a bit warily. And yesterday, about a dozen leading party officials just left their places in what's called the Shadow Cabinet, places of privilege and power, because they just don't think Corbyn is the best leader for Labour right now. Corbyn is in a fighting mood. He says he's not going anywhere.

So now we have both Labour and the Conservatives in disarray because the race to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron is already underway in the Conservative Party. And all of this is delaying exit talks with the EU.

WERTHEIMER: And all of the - all of this has ramifications far beyond the U.K. What are you hearing from - and what are the Brits hearing from the U.K. - from the EU in Washington?

KENYON: Well, they're hearing quite a bit. And not a lot of it is positive. European officials say Britain will get no special consideration, no gifts when it comes to negotiating his departure. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with both EU and U.K. officials today. Washington, of course, is trying to do what it can to keep this blow to the EU from doing too much damage to the global economy.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Peter Kenyon, coming to us from our London studio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.