Brexit: What Happens Next?

Next week, on June 23, the citizens of Great Britain will vote in a referendum that asks whether their nation should “Remain a Member of the European Union” or should “Leave the European Union.”

So … what will happen if they vote to Remain? And what will happen if they vote to Leave?

The simple truth is that no one really knows what will happen next. The European Union’s agreements do not contemplate the possibility of a member leaving the organization. Thus, they do not specify the impact of such a referendum.

Nevertheless, the New York Times reports that a vote to Leave will trigger a two year period of negotiations with the European Union to agree on a dis-association process. But it also reports that, as a result of such negotiations, Britain might “remain in the European Union’s common market.”

The Common Market, of course, predated the emergence of the Union. Technically, it no longer exists. But today there exists the European Economic Area, as well as the European Free Trade Association. Both organizations include nations that maintain their own national currencies and other aspects of independence from the Union, and yet are indirectly affiliated with the Union.

Furthermore, even nations that have adopted the Euro currency, and that aren’t voting on whether to Leave the Union, maintain aspects of independence from the Union. Several nations, for instance, have received reprieves from the critical budget deficit limitations that support the solvency of the Euro currency.

So what will actually occur as a result of this Brexit vote? Well, if the vote is to Leave the Union, negotiations to revise political and economic relationships will commence. And if the vote is to Remain in the Union, such negotiations — which routinely occur among all Union members — will continue.

Thus, the referendum is simply an opinion poll that might establish a transitory sense of direction to such negotiations, until some future event modifies that direction. In other words, although the vote represents an important barometer of British opinion at the current time, it will hardly settle the question of the future of the European Project.