By the will of the people – not today and not tomorrow, but sometime this year – Great Britain will begin the process of leaving its 43-year partnership with the European Union. To the surprise of many, despite consistently close polling data, Thursday’s referendum saw 51.9 percent of voters casting their ballots to leave, and 48.1 percent to stay, with voter turnout at an impressive 72.2 percent.
The United Kingdom – and indeed the world – woke up to an infinitely more complicated political and economic landscape.
Friday’s resignation of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who staked his political future on the decision to call the EU referendum to appease his party’s vocal Eurosceptics, will trigger a leadership race this summer or autumn, and perhaps even an early general election. Cameron has said he will leave it to the next prime minister to decide when to activate the 2009 Lisbon Treaty’s Article 50, which would set in motion the formal process of exiting the EU, requiring a minimum of two years during which the terms of withdrawal would be negotiated. On Twitter, Cameron thanked those who had campaigned to keep Britain in the EU, and those who voted Remain.
With plummeting stock prices and the value of the pound dropping sharply, whether the people of Britain will be better or worse off than before remains an open question, as does the entire future of the United Kingdom. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, says a second vote on Scottish independence from the UK is “highly likely,” since a majority of Scots voted Remain.
Republican party Sinn Fein is calling for a vote on the reunification of Ireland, as Northern Ireland has the only land border between the UK and EU.
The future of the European Union, too, is unclear, as many worry Leave’s win will bolster far-right, anti-European parties across the continent, in places like France or Denmark. In a recent YouGov survey, people in seven European countries polled thought it likely that other countries would leave the EU following Brexit.
But European Council President Donald Tusk, for his part, insisted the European Union would remain unified.
French President Francois Hollande promised on Twitter to do all he can to ensure that the referendum result leads to change and not defeat. “A new start is necessary,” he said. “To go forward, Europe cannot do as it did before.”
In the United Kingdom, UKIP leader Nigel Farage touted the Leave campaign’s win as a “victory for ordinary people,” claiming – controversially, after the death of MP Jo Cox – that Brexit had been achieved “without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired.”
Despite laying out the perils of leaving the EU in April and stating that, in the event of Brexit, the UK would be at the “back of the queue” of any trade deal with the United States, American President Barack Obama said: “The people of the United Kingdom have spoken, and we respect their decision.”
While presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton focused on the potential negative economic ramifications of Leave’s win, Republican nominee Donald Trump tweeted the following about Scotland – bizarrely, since Scotland overwhelmingly voted to Remain.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a statement on the referendum results, said:
“The UK and the EU are important strategic partners for Canada with whom we enjoy deep historical ties and common values. We will continue to build relations with both parties as they forge a new relationship.
“Canada has tremendous economic fundamentals that we are strengthening with key investments in infrastructure and measures to grow our middle class. We are well positioned to weather global market uncertainty as we have done in the past.
Trudeau also thanked Prime Minister Cameron “for being such a close ally and good friend to our country.”
Canadian Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, said the BoE and the UK Treasury had engaged in “extensive contingency planning” and that £250 billion had been earmarked to deal with fallout from the vote.
At least some in the journalistic and research communities have great faith in him:
One thing is for certain – as the UK slowly begins to deal with the aftermath of a sometimes nasty and often highly-polarized debate, messages like this one from the new mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, are more necessary than ever: