BRITAIN has voted for Brexit. What happens now? Nothing immediate, is the answer for EU nationals living in Britain and Britons living elsewhere in the EU, as well as for businesses on both sides of the Channel. It will all depend on negotiations that could take years—and no one is sure quite how many years, because the only precedent is Greenland, with a population today of around 50,000, which voted to leave in 1982. The first aim of David Cameron, the prime minister, will be to calm the markets. In Asia they have already responded to the news. The pound plunged by 9% against the dollar and as much as 13% against the yen, traditionally a bolthole for anxious investors. Japan’s main stockmarket tumbled by almost 8%. London’s stockmarket opens at 8am, and the FTSE 100 is likely to dive. Some experts warn that sterling could fall by as much as 20% overall. The chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, must now decide whether to issue an emergency “Brexit budget” as he controversially promised before the poll.
Mr Cameron has promised that Britain would immediately invoke article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which sets a two-year timetable to agree the terms of departure. But uncertainty about his own position could raise questions about this. If he steps down and a Brexiteer takes over as leader of the Tory party and as prime minister, he or she is likely to argue that Article 50 is biased against the interests of a country leaving the EU. Under Article 50, the terms of Britain’s departure would be agreed by the other 27 EU countries, without a British vote. So Brexiteers would prefer to negotiate informally, without invoking Article 50. The other 27 countries are unlikely to go for this.