OK, so the results are in and Britain has voted to leave the EU. What happens next?
We've now had statements from all the key political figures involved in the referendum. There hasn't been a great deal of detail but they've given us an outline of how things will play out.
So Cameron is going to resign?
Yes, he announced this morning that he intends to step down before the Conservative party conference in October. He wants his replacement – who everyone assumes will be Boris Johnson – to be the one to carry forward the negotiation.
So we have to wait until October until formal negotiations to leave the EU begin?
That’s Cameron’s plan. There may be some informal negotiations, but he doesn’t want to trigger Article 50 – the process by which a member state leaves the EU – until the new prime minister takes over in October.
Won’t that mean a prolonged period of uncertainty?
Yep and if it becomes too severe, they may need to change course. Cameron may need to trigger Article 50 earlier or even commit to staying in the single market, which would mean freedom of movement continues. Voters won’t much like that but there have already been hints that this is the course we might take. Prominent eurosceptic Daniel Hannan said this morning that voters hoping for less immigration might be disappointed.
What's this Article 50 thing?
It's the mechanism for leaving the EU. But there's a problem here. Once you activate it, you're on a two year timetable until you just drop out the EU. That's the apocalypse option. You leave with no trade deals in place – nothing. And in those two years the other EU member states would be negotiating with Britain as one block. We would be out of the room when they discussed their approach and they would obviously massively outnumber us. These are extremely disadvantageous negotiating positions. Cameron said this morning that it would be up to the new prime minister to kick start Article 50. Brexiters will be hoping to delay that process. So will civil servants. They know you can't sort this many trade agreements and disentangle yourself from this many continent-wide arrangements in two years – it would likely take much longer. But Europe is already demanding fast action. They want it triggered because it puts them in a better position and because it might calm down the markets – which obviously affect them too. They're the people we will be negotiating with, so we need to keep them somewhat sweet.
Is there any way to extend that two-year deadline?
Not on paper. But if there's uniform agreement from European leaders anything is possible. They can cobble together some sort of arrangement. But there's nothing in place for that to happen right now.
What if things are relatively calm over the next few days?
Then things can relax a bit. An orderly leadership contest can be held. The British prime minister won't need to make a statement about the single market or activate Article 50. You can have lots of negotiations ahead of that before you activate the two-year timer. You could even do years of negotiation and then activate article 50 when everything is finalised.
And the political process?
There will be the Conservative leadership election, which involves a shortlist written up by Tory MPs and then going out to members. It's hard to see how anyone but Boris Johnson will be the winner of it. In terms of historical position, support in the parliamentary party and support from the membership, he seems easily the most viable option.
Is that the limit of the political ramifications?
Nope. The rage in the Labour party is very severe. Jeremy Corbyn failed to motivate Labour voters into voting Remain and that, perhaps more than any other factor, led to the Brexit vote. Labour is a broken party. It's leadership clearly does not have a relationship with its voters. This morning a motion of no-confidence was tabled against the Labour leader.
This is huge.
You don’t know the half of it. Already this morning the Scottish first minister has announced plans for a new referendum on Scottish independence, the president of Sinn Fein said there’ll be a new bid for Irish reunification and Spain says it has plans to pursue joint sovereignty of Gibraltar. You are witnessing what may be the biggest political event of your lifetime.
It’s all a bit much. And quite confusing too.
For good reason. Firstly, the vote is symbolic, it doesn't have an immediate legal consequence. It's about parliament and political leaders interpreting that result. So there is no certainty there. It's interpretive. Much of what happens next depends on how severe the market panic is.
Is there any chance this process could be stopped?
Anything is possible. Even once the Article 50 process starts, European leaders can always get together and agree some sort of arrangement, particularly if economic damage to the UK is so severe that there seems to be a public reassessment and a desire to go back on the decision made yesterday. While it's never been on a matter as definitive as this, the EU does have a record of asking people questions again and again until they come up with the right answer. Conversations may already be happening about how that might be done.
You don't really know what's going on do you?
Nope, and neither does anyone else. We can just look at the likely flashpoints and the forces which will dominate the weeks, months and years to come. Not only does no-one really know what happens next – but uncertainty itself will be the dominate force defining events. If it's very high, with a very high financial cost, political leaders will need to offer assurances. If it's not as severe as we expected, things can be more relaxed. The former is the more likely option.
Is everything going to be OK?