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  • The process of the U.K. leaving the EU will take years.

    The process of the U.K. leaving the EU will take years. | Photo: AFP

Published 24 June 2016

The United Kingdom has made a historic decision to leave the European Union and Prime Minister David Cameron plans to quit, so what happens next?

Britain has voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit referendum, with results Thursday morning showing 51.9 percent voted for the exit versus 48.1 percent for the “remain” campaign, or a margin of over 1 million votes.

But as the outcome begins to send shockwaves through the U.K. and across the EU and the world, what’s next as Britain gears up for the Brexit?

1. Leaving the EU Won’t Happen Overnight

Britain will now have to prepare to negotiate with the European Union to implement the decision to make an exit. The process will take years. The U.K. first has to formally notify the EU of the plan to quit the bloc under what’s called Article 50 of the EU’s governing treaty before negotiations on an agreement can get underway.

UK Votes to Leave EU in Brexit, Cameron Plans to Resign

The first step doesn’t need to happen right away. And with Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to resign, he said he will leave the timeline to the new prime minister to decide, meaning the move is at least months away. That aligns with the view of Vote Leave Chief Matthew Elliott, who told Reuters Friday morning that it would be “foolish” to act immediately, suggesting leaders should “take stock” of the situation. Labour party and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, told BBC that he believes Article 50 should be invoked straight away to begin negotiations for a good deal as soon as possible.

Once invoked, Article 50 gives a two-year deadline to negotiate an exit. The process will be a navigation of uncharted territories since no member state has ever left the EU.

The negotiations over a withdrawal agreement, or what some media have called a divorce settlement, will cover economic issues, immigration, regulation, and other questions. Trade talks will also be necessary to determine whether Britain’s access to EU markets will be under EU rules or new trade deals.

Although the referendum is not legally binding, there is no reason to believe that the government will defy the popular vote, a move that the BBC described as “political suicide.”

2. Who Fills David Cameron’s Shoes Once He Quits?

David Cameron, who advocated a vote to remain in the EU, announced Friday morning that he will resign before the Conservative conference in October, saying he doesn’t believe he should be the one to implement the Brexit decision to leave the EU.

The Brexit Debate

The decision to quit follows the opinion of some Conservative leaders ahead of the referendum that Cameron should step down in the case of a win for the Brexit. As results came in early Friday morning, though, Vote Leave head Matthew Elliot told Reuters that there is “little appetite” among Conservative representatives for Cameron to leave office. Instead, he said the “vast majority” want to see the prime minister carry out the result of the vote.

Former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who campaigned for a “leave” vote, is now thought to be first in line as the leading candidate to succeed Cameron upon his resignation.

3. Uncertain Turn for Markets, UK Economy

As the “leave” campaign was projected to win early Friday morning before final results were in, global financial markets took a dive while oil prices slumped by more than 6 percent. Sterling hit a 30-year low and the London stock market is set to fall at the open.

The Bank of England has said it will work to guard Britain’s economy from aftershocks of the decision, but markets are set to be uncertain.

The deal that results from Brexit negotiations will also have an impact on business in the U.K.

4. New Scotland Referendum Could Stick It to UK

Scotland, like London, voted in favor of remaining in the EU. With 62 percent of Scottish people voting in favor of staying in the EU, the country is at odds with the U.K. as a whole.

In the wake of the decision to leave, Scotland is "highly like" to hold another referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Friday, adding that it would be "democratically unacceptable" if Scotland was forced to leave the EU against its popular will.

In 2014, 44 percent of Scottish voters favored a move for independence. Some analysts believe that the U.K. Brexit could increase the number of Scots looking to split.

5. Copycats Could Be Emboldened

In the negotiations process, European Union leader are likely going to try to minimize the potential for other countries to be emboldened to split. But other political movements aligned with the camp that led the Brexit campaign from the right are already eyeing up the possibility.

As results rolled in Friday morning, far-right French politician Marine Le Pen wrote on her Twitter account that it is now time for a parallel referendum in France and other EU countries, as she has advocated for years.

Meanwhile, European Council Chief Donald Tusk vowed for “wider reflection” on the future of the EU, invoking the adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

6. 'Freedom of Movement' Questions Loom Large

One of the big questions arising from the decision to leave the EU is what impact it will have on migration, including British foreign nationals working in other EU countries and vice versa. Over 3 million EU nationals live in Britain, while 1.2 million Brits live in other EU countries.

While the details of immigration will have to be hammered out in the negotiations with the EU, at the very least U.K. nationals will have to start thinking about passport and residency requirements if they want to move to other EU countries in the future.

Claims that Britain has “lost control of its borders” figured prominently in the campaign to leave the EU, along with xenophobic rhetoric and racist fear-mongering about the impacts of immigration.

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