The first two big cities to report in the U.K.’s referendum on EU membership have dealt a big blow to the Remain camp led by Prime Minister David Cameron, and to financial markets hoping to avoid the disruption of a Leave vote.
The city of Sunderland in the north-east voted 61%-39% in favor of Leave, a wider margin of victory than expected. Meanwhile the neighboring city of Newcastle voted, which had been expected to vote clearly in favor of Remain, only did so by a margin of 50.7% to 49.3%.
Both cities are part of the post-industrial heartlands that are below the national average in terms of income. As such, they were expected to register high levels of discontent with the status quo among poorer voters–a trend which may be replicated nationwide.
“It looks like those areas which are suffering from deprivation and poverty the most are the ones who are the strongest in favor of the Leave position,” Leanne Woods, the head of the Welsh Nationalist Party Plaid Cymru told the BBC, referring to anecdotal results from Wales, rather than the Sunderland and Newcastle votes.
The Sunderland result caused the pound sterling to fall over 5 cents against the dollar within minutes, an indication of the massive volatility that could follow the vote when European markets reopen in the morning.
By 0023 local time, the pound had recovered slightly to $1.4557, but even that is 4 1/2 cents below the seven-month high it touched earlier in the evening, when Nigel Farage, the leader of the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party, appeared to concede the vote. He subsequently retracted those comments.
The 382 districts around the country are only just starting to report their results. Aside from Sunderland and Newcastle, the only two districts to report so far are Gibraltar and the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. Both delivered big margins of victory for Remain, but are unlikely to have much impact on the final vote count.