What’s Next For The UK After Brexit Vote

Brexit is happening. But nothing will actually change overnight.

25/06/2016 3:57 AM AEST | Updated 25/06/2016 3:59 AM AEST
Neil Hall/Reuters
Britain voted to leave the EU in a referendum on Thursday. "Leave" supporters are pictured here outside the prime minister's residence in Downing Street, London, on Friday.

The United Kingdom's vote on Thursday to leave the European Union ushers in a new era for the country and for Europe, and its reverberations are being felt across the world.

What this new era will look like is unclear.

The country was reeling on Friday after 52 percent of voters chose for Britain to exit the EU, commonly referred to as Brexit, while 48 percent voted to stay. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum and campaigned to stay in the EU, announced he would resign. Financial markets and the British pound plunged.

Amid the shock and volatility, the question gripping the country and its partners around the globe is: What happens next?

While much remains uncertain, this is what we know about how Brexit will play out in the coming days, months and years.

Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
British Prime Minister David Cameron announces he will be stepping down after the U.K. voted to leave the European Union, as his wife Samantha watches outside Number 10 Downing Street on Friday.

The next week

Nothing changes overnight. Cameron remains the prime minister until his party selects a new leader. Britain remains a member of the EU until it negotiates a deal to formally leave.

Instead, the next week will touch off discussions across Europe about what to do next.

On Saturday, the six countries that founded the EU -- Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg -- will meet in Berlin to grapple with the consequences of the Brexit referendum.

British members of parliament are due to meet for the first time after the divisive vote on Monday (unless they call a special session over the weekend.)  

European leaders will also meet Monday to begin to chart the path ahead. Senior European Commission officials will hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels on the same day to discuss how to proceed with Brexit. Later, three of Europe’s most prominent leaders --  EU President Donald Tusk, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- will meet in Berlin.

The European Parliament is set to meet for an emergency session on Tuesday, with the Brexit vote on the top of their agenda. Then, a pre-scheduled summit of leaders of all 28 EU nations will begin in Brussels, with Cameron expected to brief the rest of the bloc on the referendum and Britain’s plans for the future.

Next week is likely to ignite major speculation about the next leader of the Conservative Party, and speculation about a change in leadership in the opposition Labour Party, after Labour politicians submitted a motion of no confidence in leader Jeremy Corbyn on Friday. 

Phil Noble / Reuters
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, backed the "remain" campaign in the referendum. Now his political future is in doubt.

The coming months

The key question is when the U.K. will choose to invoke the EU’s exit clause -- Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Once this happens it will set in motion a two-year timeline for the U.K. and EU to negotiate the terms of the country’s withdrawal, and what its new relationship with Europe will look like, including issues such a trade and migration.

How and when Article 50 is invoked, and the negotiation process that follows, is all uncharted territory. No country has ever left the EU before.

Technically, it is the British government’s decision alone. Cameron indicated during the referendum campaign that if the "leave" side won he’d like to start the process as soon as possible, but in his resignation speech Friday said that the decision should rest with his successor.

It could take several months for his Conservative Party to select a new leader, who with Cameron setting a deadline of October. Britain also faces the possibility of an early election in late 2016 or 2017 if lawmakers push for the new prime minister to seek a mandate from voters.

The government may face competing pressures from the EU and the British parliament. European leaders on Friday urged Britain to begin its withdrawal from the EU immediately. British members of parliament, most of whom supported remaining in the EU, could try to hold up the process.

There is also likely to be internal turmoil in the U.K. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said Friday her government will start preparing legislation for a new referendum on Scotland’s independence from the U.K., after most Scots voted to stay in the EU. Sturgeon said Brexit justified Scotland charting its own course. 

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s deputy leader Martin McGuinness, who is from the nationalist Sinn Fein party, demanded a referendum on a united Ireland after the vote. 

Rob Stothard via Getty Images
Supporters of the "remain" campaign watch the results of the EU referendum. It will likely take months for Britain to get a new prime minister and years before a deal to leave the EU is reached.

Next year

EU leaders are expected to try to move fast and decisively through the negotiations on Britain’s exit from the EU, in order to salvage a sense of unity and quell speculation about further departures. The bloc is likely to push for a tough deal with the U.K. to deter other countries with increasingly prominent euroskeptic political movements from also trying to leave.

Yet, several factors could set the process into turmoil. France, Germany and the Netherlands hold elections next year. In France, the leader of the far-right National Front Marine Le Pen is ahead in the polls for the April presidential election. She has called for France to hold its own referendum on the EU.

Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch anti-immigrant Party for Freedom, also called for a referendum in the Netherlands. He is leading the polls ahead of the country’s March election.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel also faces an uphill battle to stay in power next year, as her popularity ratings plunge and the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party exploits dissatisfaction with her policy towards migrants and refugees.

After that

While Article 50 lays out a two-year timeline for a country to leave the EU, it does allow for the period to be extended.

It the time runs out without a deal or an extension, technically Britain would just leave by default as European law would no longer apply.

If the EU and U.K. do reach a deal, it then has to be ratified by all remaining 27 EU member countries, a process that the EU’s Tusk said could take a further five years.

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