The people have spoken. But the June 23 vote to leave the European Union is only the beginning of what will be a long and uncertain process of divorce. David Cameron’s statement made it clear that the UK is unlikely to be in a position to start negotiations before his successor is in place in October.
There are many decisions in the coming days that will have major implications for the future of both the United Kingdom and the European Union.
For the UK, there is an immediate risk to the British economy and a long-term threat to British influence. Today’s financial turmoil reflects a fear of a loss of access to the EU market that could scare off investors and potentially do critical damage to strategic sectors like financial services. In the longer term, a failure to create an effective economic and political relationship with the EU will doom the UK to relative poverty and international obscurity.
For the EU, Britain’s exit risks reinforcing a cycle of disintegration. Member states like Poland and Hungary, as well as opposition parties like Marine Le Pen’s Front National, could launch copy-cat moves. Others such as Ireland could be economically destabilised. Internationally, the loss of the EU’s second-biggest economy will be a serious blow to the EU’s standing and reputation. If other crises – a euro crisis, a Schengen crisis, a Trump presidency – get layered on top of Brexit, there is a real danger of collapse.
Europeans and British policymakers need to move quickly to contain these risks.
To continue reading the story, please visit the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations.