The UK has voted to leave the European Union. As a result, we've already seen massive losses on the stock market and a huge devaluation of the British pound. In Scotland, where citizens just voted to stay in the UK, it's safe to say heads are still exploding.
But what will be the long-term consequences of the Brexit vote? What exactly is it? And...
Why should we care?
Brexit was a non-binding referendum on the UK remaining in the EU. UK's citizens voted 51.89% to 48.11% in favour of leaving.
The two main impacts this will likely have on the UK involve the economy and migration.
While the EU works as a single economy, the UK's economy will now be separated out, and controlled by the UK independently. The UK will no longer have to comply with European regulation, and would be allowed to create tariffs (or, taxes) on goods imported from Europe.
Immigration, which was, sadly, one of the main driving forces of the leave campaign, might also be effected. Currently, as a member of the EU, UK is subject to unrestricted immigration from other member countries: everyone within the EU is allowed to go anywhere else in the EU without a visa or special work permit. But this is also a two-way street, as UK exits the EU, it's citizens may now find it harder to live and work in Europe.
Another fear is that other members of the EU, like Denmark or France, may begin to reconsider their own membership. Additionally, Scotland is likely to take another vote on its status as part of the UK.
And if they were to leave, Northern Ireland may consider reunification with the rest of Ireland, or even independence.
In short, Brexit could lead to the break up of the United Kingdom, a dismantling of the European Union, and turn England into a backward, xenophobic, economic wasteland. Or, Brexit could end up being nothing. That's right. Nothing. No long-term effects whatsoever.
Remember: the vote was a non-binding referendum. Although Cameron is stepping aside to allow the process to continue without him, separation will not happen until parliament approves it. If public opinion shifts, or multination corporations put enough pressure on British politicians to delay efforts, it's actually possible that the UK ends up staying in the EU after all.
Or, UK's negotiated exit could end up dragging on forever. The negotiations are supposed to conclude within two years, but as long as the UK and EU agree to continue talks, the deadline can be extended.
More likely, UK's change of status could end up being a distinction without a difference. The UK is very unlikely to put up major trade barriers with the EU, as even as a separate economy, the EU would still be its main trading partner. And although EU economic regulations would not apply, the UK will have its own laws, which are not particularly likely to be much different.
The UK may slow European immigration, but if it wants its citizens to be able to live and work in Europe, it will probably have to offer a balanced deal. Perhaps the UK will slow its flow of European immigrants, but those jobs will need to be filled somehow. So perhaps they'll increase immigration from places like Nigeria and India to replace the European immigrants. That would a fun answer to those who voted for Brexit for xenophobic reasons.
Ultimately, Brexit could have profound impacts on the UK, Europe and the world. Or, it might end up being nothing. So, until we see how the exit negotiations go, where Britain's internal politics go from here, and what trade and immigration policies are implemented in the UK, I find it very hard not to wonder...
Why should we care?