EU referendum: Commentator's reaction to Brexit
Brian Groom is an experienced political and business commentator. He was previously Political Editor and UK Business Editor at the Financial Times.
"Seismic as Britain’s vote to leave the European Union after more than 40 years is, the repercussions have only just begun. The UK must now choose its future path - to be an open economy pursuing liberal policies on trade, immigration and regulation or retreat behind tariffs and hard borders.
Its task has been made doubly difficult by the nature of the vote. This is a victory for those who see themselves as globalisation’s losers in a referendum that set poor against rich, non-graduates against graduates, non-cosmopolitans against cosmopolitans. It will be seen as a disaster by much of British business and the City of London, which faces prolonged political uncertainty and market volatility.
The UK’s 52:48 referendum decision reverses 70 years of European integration and is the biggest shock to the western order since the end of the cold war. EU leaders will be desperate to stop the contagion spreading. It also threatens the break-up of the UK, since Scotland voted for Remain, though a second independence referendum would be a gamble for the nationalists.
This vote is the UK’s version of the anti-establishment wave seen in Greece, Spain, France and in the US presidential election. While Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system makes it hard for insurgents to break through, the referendum offered a perfect platform for the disaffected. It is a victory, among others, for Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, who stood seven times unsuccessfully for parliament yet has achieved his aim.
David Cameron, who spectacularly miscalculated, will stand down as prime minister in October after the Conservatives elect a new leader. Boris Johnson, the pro-Brexit former mayor of London, starts as favourite but the Tories rarely choose the obvious candidate. The new leader may seek an early general election.
He or she must decide not only when to invoke Article 50, giving the UK two years to negotiate withdrawal, but also what future trade deal to seek with the EU. Will it be one like Norway or Switzerland, which preserves access to the single market in return for free movement of labour, or rely on World Trade Organisation rules, which may mean customs barriers?
Many businesses would prefer the former, but political pressures point towards the latter. Hostility to immigration was a strong factor behind the vote to leave. It would be a brave leader who now set out a prospectus based on open borders."