Last week’s Brexit voting results have sent the UK spiraling into uncertainty

June 29, 2016 – Washington Post

On June 23, Britain voted to leave the European Union. With a much higher than expected turnout of 72 percent, close to 52 percent of the electorate voted to leave, while just over 48 percent voted to remain. The referendum fundamentally divided the country. London, Scotland, and Northern Ireland overwhelmingly voted to maintain the status quo, while the Welsh and especially the rest of England voted in large numbers to break with Brussels. The vote also showed large gaps between young and old, rich and poor, more and less educated, more and less well-traveled, as well as urban and rural. The former consistently sided with remain while the latter systematically favored leaving.

The vote left the United Kingdom, the rest of Europe and the world behind in a state of bewilderment. International financial markets went into a tailspin, wiping out close to $3 trillion in global wealth in just two trading sessions. The day after the vote — June 24 — was the worst day in global equity markets since the market collapse in September 2008 that followed the failure of Lehman Brothers. Britain’s currency, the pound sterling, crashed to its lowest level vis-à-vis the dollar since 1985. Prime Minister David Cameron, who had renegotiated Britain’s terms with the E.U. and headed the ‘remain’ campaign, announced that he planned to resign.

While the “people have spoken” in favor of leaving, three-quarters of the members of the House of Commons want to remain in the E.U., suggesting that the current parliament is vastly out of touch with the people it claims to represent.

The Conservative Party’s next leader is likely to be either former London Mayor Boris Johnson or current Home Secretary Theresa May. Boris Johnson, who many expect was a closet “remainer,” given his cosmopolitan outlook and embrace of economic openness and globalization, opportunistically chose to put his weight behind the “leave” camp. Theresa May deliberately kept a low profile during the campaign and focused on her job, even though she loyally supported David Cameron’s “remain” camp despite her well-known Eurosceptic leanings.

To choose a new Conservative Party leader, who would also serve as Britain’s next prime minister, Tory members of Parliament (MPs) have to agree on a short list of two, probably over the coming two weeks. Then the 150,000 or so party members will get to decide between the two finalists, after an internal campaign that will probably last about six weeks.

As May and Johnson jostle for the position, they will likely offer competing views on what a post-Brexit E.U. looks like, and what model — Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Canada, or Singapore and Hong Kong — to follow in how the country relates to the E.U. in the future. Meanwhile, recent Google searches for “how to join the Conservative Party” have skyrocketed, suggesting that the contest will be unpredictable.