It’s been a long six weeks of campaigning but this morning the UK awoke to the outcome of one of the biggest democratic decisions many of us have ever taken. With a majority of 52%, the UK has voted to leave the European Union. So while it might be the end of the campaign, it’s only the start of some big changes for the country and our lives in it. Here’s what will likely happen next.
The process of leaving
To officially leave the EU, the Prime Minister will need to activate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which essentially kickstarts the process of exiting. David Cameron in his speech this morning said this would be the role of a new Prime Minister following a leadership election in October. The process of actually leaving is much longer; negotiations have to take place between all member states and only one country has ever left the EU before (Greenland, in 1982) so the timescale is unclear. After two years, however, the UK is no longer bound by existing EU agreements.
Resignations and reshuffles
The internal politics of the Conservative party have dominated the referendum campaign, with many suggesting that David Cameron’s position as Prime Minister is unsustainable in the event of a Brexit he does not support. Cameron this morning said he will stay on for three months but ultimately will resign. Ros Taylor of the LSE Politics Blog suggests that George Osborne will also be forced to stand down, and predicts that “Boris Johnson and Theresa May – and maybe another dark horse runner, who’ll be a Eurosceptic – will start to jostle for the leadership of the Conservatives”.
Pressure will also be on Jeremy Corbyn, says Ros, who has frustrated many Labour voters with a supposed lack of enthusiasm about the campaign and a refusal to appear alongside David Cameron.
A second Scottish independence referendum
Scotland voted emphatically in this referendum to stay in the EU, with all 32 of its local authorities returning a ‘remain’ vote. The SNP government said in their manifesto that a second independence referendum could be called if there was a ‘significant and material’ change in circumstance, which a forced removal from the EU certainly seems to qualify for. Overnight, ex-First Minister Alex Salmond predicted a Scottish referendum within the next two years. The Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, also stated that he would push for a reunification with the Republic of Ireland, who are not part of the UK and remain in the EU. The future of the United Kingdom as a unified country, then, seems uncertain in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.
As the result began to become clear overnight, markets quickly responded with the pound falling by 10% to its lowest value since 1985 and some trading being halted. Brexit supporters throughout the campaign argued that any economic reaction like this would be a temporary blip. However, leading think tank The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) suggest that “investment [will] plummet and consumer spending hit by lower real incomes.” Of course, this all depends on the relationships the UK develops with the EU and the rest of the world in the months to come.
Whatever happens next, it’s clear that this is a big moment for the country with huge impacts on various aspects of our lives. To a large extent, as the first ever major European country to leave, we are now in uncharted territory. One thing’s for sure: the next few years will be an interesting period in Britain’s political history.