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In the next few days, there will be a huge political reaction to the decision. Statements from British Prime Minister David Cameron, EU leaders, finance ministers, and central bankers are expected. There will be continued turmoil in the financial markets, and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney along with his peers across major economies are likely to be key figures in trying to soften the blow.
Just how the rest of the EU reacts could be critical to how things move forward. If things turn nasty, the exit and new trade deal negotiations are going to be far harder. It’s no easy task for the EU leaders either, many of whom are facing growing challenges from populist parties calling for their own countries to hold referendums.
Cameron has previously said he’d start the 'Leave' process by activating Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty without undue delay. However, this is just the start of the process. The exit has to be negotiated with the rest of the EU, a process that’s supposed to be completed within two years. Activating Article 50 could also be delayed while initial talks on a new deal take place, according to senior 'Leave' campaigners.
If all goes to timetable, then Britain’s exit from the EU would take place in the summer of 2018. But it’s not that simple. The UK may not have negotiated a new relationship in full by then. That could take years longer. The 'Leave' campaign has said it wants to complete talks on a new trade deal between the UK and EU by 2020.
More will become clear in coming days and weeks, but for now it’s clear that the UK is taking a step into the unknown with years of hard negotiation ahead of it.