The last time England had a national referendum was in 1975 when it officially brought itself into the European Community.
Now, forty-one years later, it has taken itself out.
Some people are still celebrating, some people are still in shock, but most of us are just wondering what the hell happens next? Here are some things to think about as the consequences of this historic vote unravel.
First, there is still a possibility that Brexit might be undone. Though a majority of the population voted to leave, the poll doesn’t actually have any legally binding authority.
The current Prime Minister, David Cameron–who has reportedly decided to resign following the vote–aggressively campaigned for the “Remain” vote.
However, this is really unlikely.
Any British government that ignores the express will of the people on this issue can expect not to be the government this time next year.
Speaking of the process, the details are contained within Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
There are two general ways this could go.
The first is that both the United Kingdom and the European Union take pains to craft a new treaty that changes as little as possible. There is some precedent for this in the country of Norway, which is not part of the EU but has limited itself to EU restrictions in return for greater access to European markets.
The aim of this would be to limit the volatility Brexit will have on both Europe and Britain and hope that a new equilibrium can be established in the aftermath.
Of course, by “limit” I mean keep the British Sterling pound from plummeting even farther than it already has and quell the panic that is sweeping across Europe as you read this.
Of course, England isn’t Norway.
One of the main reasons Brexit won is because England didn’t like the restrictions and policies incumbent upon its membership in the EU (particularly its immigration policy. More on that later). So England might refuse to submit to the time of restrictions that Norway does.
Also, the leaders of the European Union might try to punish the UK for leaving in order to discourage other countries from following suit. This could lead to a very tense relationship between England and the mainland, both economically and politically.
Europe’s already shaky economic situation could implode under the stress of new tariffs and trading rules with one of its biggest trading partners, which could in turn lead to widespread social unrest in countries like Greece and Spain where things have barely settled down since the last Eurocrisis.
Either way, things are going to get messy, and that is without even considering immigration. Within the European Union travel is unrestricted and easy, meaning once you’re inside you can pretty much go and work anywhere you want. This is one of the pillars of the European Community and many think the embodiment of European Solidarity.
It was also a driving force behind the success of Brexit, as many Brits did not like the ease with which refugees could flow into their nation from a war torn Middle East.
It is estimated that some three million immigrants are currently residing in England as a result of this treaty, and their future is uncertain. They may very well face deportation, especially if the Brexit victory is a sign that the UK government is swinging even more conservative than it already is.
Whatever happens, you can be guaranteed that things in Europe (and across the globe) are going to be pretty nuts for the next few months. It is impossible to know precisely what the country is going to look like a year from now, or ten years, or how the British people are going to react the chaos that lies ahead.
Knowing them though, they will probably do what they have always done in the face of crisis: Keep calm and carry on Brexit.