It’s official. Britain has decided to leave the European Union.
The country’s leading broadcasters called the historic result by 4:40am local time (11.40pm ET). Despite wide support for the remain camp in London and Scotland, the leave vote—which held a 52% lead to remain’s 48%—was strong in Wales and rural parts of England.
“This has implications for absolutely everything,” BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said during the broadcaster’s live coverage of the seismic decision.
It is the first time in the EU’s history that a country has decided to leave, so the divorce proceedings are uncertain. One thing is clear: they will take a long, long while.
The exit strategy
Ties will not be severed immediately. The first step would be to invoke—for the first time in history—article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. It stipulates that once an EU member state has notified the bloc of its intention to leave, it will have a maximum of two years to discuss and agree on the terms of its exit.
As the Telegraph’s Matthew Holehouse explains, other member states would have a say in, and veto over, the specific conditions, and the eventual agreement would need to be ratified by both the European Council and the European Parliament. Everything from Britain’s new trading relationships, financial regulations, and where the UK stands on free movement rules would need to be agreed upon.
What’s not clear is when exactly Article 50 will be invoked, although UK prime minister David Cameron will be pressured to make this happen quickly to avoid dragging out the exit negotiations any longer than necessary. As European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said earlier this week: “Out is out.”
A European Council meeting is slated for next week (June 28-29), during which the outcome of the referendum will be discussed.
As for today, we could expect a statement from European Council president Donald Tusk, who is expected to meet with Juncker and European Parliament president Martin Schulz this morning. Statements are also due from other major EU leaders.
A political struggle?
Calling the vote was always going to be a risky move for Cameron, a staunch defender of Britain’s reformed membership of the EU. With the country now voting to leave, he is left in an awkward position, and could backtrack on his earlier insistence that he would not quit in the event of a Brexit.
Last night (June 23) over 80 Conservative MPs signed a letter saying Cameron had a “mandate and duty” to remain as leader. Should he choose to step aside, however, the favorite to replace Cameron is arguably the loudest defender of the Vote Leave cause: former mayor of London Boris Johnson.
Cameron is expected to make a speech later today (June 24). Meetings with the head of the UK’s civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, and the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, are likely to thrash out a response strategy.
The economic chaos?
Economic authority figures—from Federal Reserve and the Bank of England to the IMF and George Soros—all predicted doom if the UK did vote to leave.
The decision has already sent the financial markets into chaos, with the pound falling to a 31-year low against the dollar.
Japan’s Nikkei stock index also fell sharply, by almost 8%.
Trading opens in the City of London at 8am BST (3am EST).
The domino effect?
There are fears that Britain’s exit could trigger political shockwaves and calls for exits from other member states. Back in May, an Ipsos-MORI survey asked voters in eight major European countries whether their own nations should hold a referendum on their EU membership. Almost half said yes.
Within moments of the UK’s result being announced, far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders was making headlines:
Does the UK vote also have the potential to lead to the breakup of the UK itself? Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon released a statement shortly after the result saying that Scotland sees its future “as part of the EU.”
The Netherlands, France, and Germany all go to the polls in general elections in 2017. How Britain’s move today will affect public opinion in these nations is certainly worth watching.