Britain’s historic decision to break from the European Union in its Brexit vote prompted nothing short of chaos Friday morning as U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation, Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hinted at another referendum vote for independence from the U.K., and global markets spun into a tizzy.
What happens next is just as confusing as it could take years for the U.K. to step away from the bloc and redraw its trade and political ties to Europe and the rest of the world.
But for now there are clear winners and losers of Friday’s stunning decision.
Former London Mayor Boris Johnson was one of the loudest voices calling for the U.K. to exit the EU. On Friday he said the Leave’s victory signaled “the British people [speaking] up for democracy.” Above all else, he said, the vote means Britain “can find our voice in the world again—a voice commensurate with the fifth biggest economy in the world.” (Because of the pound’s decline Friday, the U.K. is now the sixth largest economy behind France.) Johnson should be ecstatic Friday not just because his side won but also because it could propel him to Prime Minister. He’s now the favorite to succeed Cameron.
Nigel Farage, leader of Britain’s UKIP party who’s built his political career around advocating for Britain to exit the EU, said that Friday should be deemed “Independence Day” because of the vote results. Farage said Eurosceptics have often been dismissed as “fringey” but now:”The Eurosceptic genie is out of the bottle and will not be put back.” The trouble for Farage is, now that the U.K. is “independent” again, what is the point of a U.K. Independence Party?
In a visit to his golf course in Scotland, Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday praised the Brexit vote, saying it indicates the British people “taking back their country.” The businessman had previously supported the idea of the U.K. breaking ties with the political bloc because, he said, “migration has been a horrible thing for Europe.” The Leave campaign’s victory also gives Trump’s campaign more impetus because it proves that a sharp finger in the eye for the establishment and globalization is—to the horror of that establishment elite—a winning formula.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen as one—and perhaps the only—world leader who supported the U.K.’s departure from the EU. He never officially endorsed the idea, but messages from the Russian Embassy in Britain and the programming of Russia Today seemed to indicate that the Kremlin was pulling for a leave vote. That’s because Russia would benefit from the weakening of the European Union, finding it easier to play its various members against each other. The EU has sanctioned the country following its invasion of neighboring Ukraine, and the U.K. was one of the most hawkish advocates of those measures.
Europe’s far right movement outside the EU interpreted Britain’s vote to leave the EU as validation of their own efforts to do the same. Marine Le Pen, who’s vying to be France’s next president on an anti-Europe and anti-immigration platform, said Friday, “Like a lot of French people, I’m very happy that the British people held on and made the right choice. What we thought was impossible yesterday has now become possible.” Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right and anti-immigration movement, called for a referendum on the Netherlands’ own membership in the EU. “Now it’s our turn. I think the Dutch people must now be given the chance to have their say in a referendum,” he said. Greece’s Neo-Nazi Party Golden Dawn was also overjoyed, welcoming what it called “the brave decision of the British people to deny the ‘crows’ of Brussels and the financial oligarchy of Germany.”
In the early hours of Friday, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron emerged as the single biggest loser of the Brexit vote as his gamble on the referendum blew up in spectacular fashion. He’s torched his political career and legacy, devalued Britain’s relationship with America, and most likely hastened the breakup of his own country. Cameron said Friday morning that he would resign since the British electorate decisively dismissed his pro-EU stance. “The British people have made the very clear decision to take a different path and as such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction,” he said in his resignation speech. “I will do everything I can as Prime Minister to steady the ship in coming months, but I do not think it would be right for me to captain that ship.”
Global markets endured a beating as the Leave’s victory became clear. The pound plummeted more than 10%, and at one point dropped to its lowest level in more than 30 years as its faced its worst one-day loss ever (making the U.K. economy for now the world’s sixth-biggest economy, after being no. 5 when it went to bed). The fallout spread beyond the British Isles as U.S. stock futures promised to open sharply lower. Dow Jones industrial average futures alone predicted that the gauge could open down nearly 650 points when stocks start trading on Friday, which would be the sixth worst daily point dive in Dow history.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was Cameron’s main negotiating partner when he sought to reform the U.K.’s relationship with the EU in February before scheduling the referendum. She gave Cameron some concessions but arguably could have done more to quell the U.K.’s concerns about the influx of immigrants due to the EU’s principle of free movement. Failing to do so means Merkel woke up Friday to a demoralized European Union and the reality that, as Britain departs the bloc, Germany will have to shoulder a larger share of the EU budget. It also has more than any other EU country to lose from access to the market of the U.K., with which it ran a trade surplus of over 60 billion euros ($66 billion) last year.
The vote did not go as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton would have liked, and it, in turn, validated her opponent Donald Trump’s stance on the issue. She believed that “transatlantic cooperation is essential, and that cooperation is strongest when Europe is united,” according to a policy advisor. Likewise, the British people rejected the warnings of President Barack Obama who said during the campaign that they would have to get “to the back of the queue” if they wanted a trade deal with the U.S. after a Brexit.
—Time Will Tell—
We aren’t sure whether this is good or bad news for Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader. On the one hand, two of his pro-EU lawmakers have filed a no-confidence vote in his leadership; on the other hand, the vote strongly suggests that—based on his refusal to campaign more vigorously for Remain—he is more in touch with the working class his party is supposed to represent than the rest of Labour’s top brass. Brexit may strengthen his hand, allowing him to drag his party back to its Socialist roots, although whether that would make it more electable in a U.K. shorn of Scotland is another question.