Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Brexit: Unknown forces unleashed by outcome

Brexit: Unknown forces unleashed by outcome
Published 24 Jun 2016 

In just over 90 hours after the UK's excruciating referendum vote to leave the EU, the politically shattered British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was due to go to Brussels to attend a long-planned EU leaders summit.

Instead of celebratory champagne, he and his fellow EU confreres will be bracing themselves to face the dangerous forces unleashed by the British outcome.

The instability from Brexit was already underway as the results began trending to the official Leave result. The markets spoke first, sending the pound to a low not seen since the mid-1980s, and spreading turmoil through global bourses.

Then the victorious Leave campaigner and UKIP leader, Nigel Farrage, told the BBC: 'I hope this victory brings down this failed project and brings us to a Europe of sovereign nation states trading together. Let June the 23rd go down in our history as our independence day.' Earlier, even before the result was clear, Mr Farrage said 'the Eurosceptic genie is out of the bottle and will not be put back'.

He was quickly backed up by the extremist Dutch Freedom Party leader, Geert Wilders who tweeted, 'Hurrah for the British! Now it's our turn. Time for a Dutch referendum.' 

Other European far right forces began to rejoice over the result with the National Front in France tweeting via its Vice President, Florian Philippot: 'The freedom of the people always ends up winning. Bravo United Kingdom. Now it's our turn'.

Gerard Aruad, France's ambassador to Washington gave a hint of what might occupy the EU leaders summit in Brussels next week when he tweeted, 'Now to the other Member states to save the EU from unraveling which excludes business as usual, especially in Brussels. Reform or die.'[fold]

Many have speculated a British exit would leave Germany little challenged as the master of the EU, but so far the reaction from Berlin has been what might be expected. Germany's Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel tweeted: 'Damn! What a bad day for Europe."

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon hinted at a future break up of the UK over Brexit, saying that the EU vote 'makes it clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union. After all, all 32 local authority areas (in Scotland) returned majorities for Remain.'

Another looming problem for the UK is that Northern Ireland also voted to Remain, if not as emphatically as Scotland. This will raise thoughts of a reunification with the Republic of Ireland. 'The British government...has forfeited any mandate to represent the interest of people in the north of Ireland in circumstances where the north is dragged out of Europe,' said Sinn Fein chairman, Declan Kearney .

The now hapless Cameron must decide when to use Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that allows the UK two years to negotiate its withdrawal. He said he would do so as soon as possible, but Boris Johnson and British cabinet minister, Michael Gove, who led the official Leave campaign (which excluded Nigel Farrage), say Cameron should not rush it.

At the same time, however, they say they want quick changes before the UK leaves the EU, including limiting the power of EU judges and restricting the free movement of workers.

This advice not to rush on one hand but to speed up on the other could be in breach of EU regulations. But that won't worry the Leavers.

Another Tory Leaver, former defence secretary Liam Fox, urged Cameron to stay on as prime minister to see Britain through the 'turbulence' the vote would  bring. He said:

There is clearly going to be some short-term turbulence. . . As the prime minister that gave us the referendum he is best placed to see us through. . . It would be quite wrong and against his character to say 'I lost the referendum therefore I'm going.'

Elsewhere, in the Remain camp, emotions were running high. Labour's former Europe Minister, Keith Vaz told the BBC the vote would be 'catastrophic for our country, for the rest of Europe, and for the rest of the world.'

Three weeks ago on The Interpreter  Daniel Woker wrote Europe faced three related challenges: Libya and Turkey as key migrant transfer countries; Putinism in the East; and the need to stay globally relevant in the Asian century. Woker said:

Prime Minister Cameron or a like-minded pro-European successor will feel free to work with the UK's newly affirmed European partners to start tackling real problems such as those three challenges.

Now Cameron won't.

Photo by Michael Tubi/Corbis via Getty Images

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