What will happen if we vote to leave the EU? How the UK would react to Brexit
The first scene of the first act will see a shell-shocked David Cameron stand on the steps of Downing Street on the morning of June 24 and announce the public have spoken and he accepts the will of the people.
This will be a personal humiliation for a Prime Minister who just over a year earlier had stood outside No 10 celebrating the Conservatives’ first overall majority for more than 20 years.
What happens next will change our country fundamentally and shape its future for several decades. In there short term, there could be chaos on the markets, heated negotiations and political turmoil.
Longer term we will find out if can prosper as an independent nation or we have inflicted a massive act of economic self harm.
Here is how Brexit could play out:
1. You cannot buck the markets
Stand by for carnage on the markets
The first reaction will come from the City. The markets have been jittery throughout the campaign, with stocks falling every time Leave gains in the polls.
Expect a substantial fall in shares if the country votes for Brexit .
Multi-national firms with big investments in the UK could be worse hit as will those sectors who have been able to trade without tariffs to the EU.
The Bank of England will do its best to prevent the fall out by making sure the banks have enough money.
The Bank’s monetary policy committee will also hold an emergency meeting to decide whether to raise interest rates to prevent a falling pound leading to higher inflation.
Nor will the contagion be confined to the UK. The European Central Bank is on stand by as shares in other European countries react to the news.
The key question is how long the carnage will last.
Even pro-Leave politicians have admitted there could be a short-term shock.
Panic will only set in if investors fear the damage to the UK economy is permanent rather than temporary.
2. A small piece of EU law will become very import
Britain will have to start negotiating with the people we’ve turned our backs on
A little known piece of legislation called Article 50 suddenly takes on huge international importance.
This is the mechanism by which the UK begins its decoupling from the European Union.
David Cameron has said he will invoke Article 50 immediately after the result.
Though this depends on whether he is still Prime Minister (See below).
The UK then has two years to negotiate its exit with the EU. If no deal is forthcoming it can ask for an extension but that would require the approval of all EU member states.
And there’s a further catch: the final deal has be agreed by EU leaders via a qualified majority vote, a majority in the European Parliament and by the remaining 27 national parliaments across the EU.
Anyone could block the deal if they dislike the terms given to the UK and other EU countries may be in no mood to be generous.
There is dispute as to whether Article 50 is irreversible.
Some say the wording makes it a one way street – that once you have said you will leave there is no turning back.
Others believe the UK could have the freedom, if it cannot get a decent deal, to go back to the country for a second referendum.
3. There could be a lot of visits to Buckingham Palace
David Cameron may have to jump in the car to see the Queen
The referendum campaign has proved a bruising affair for the Tories who have traded insults about each others’ honesty and judgement.
Both Remain and Tories insist the Conservatives will be able to come together again after the result and Cameron’s position is safe.
But this is regarded as a holding line and few believe Cameron will either want to stay as Prime Minister or have the luxury of being able to choose to stay if the country votes out.
Having invested all his authority in campaigning for Remain and warned of the consequences of Brexit , Cameron would be under immense pressure to announce his departure.
Boris Johnson, George Osborne, Theresa May are then expected to throw their hats in the ring.
The advantage would be with Mr Johnson as the majority of Conservative members are pro Brexit.
Others who could stand include Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb and the pro-Brexit Andrea Leadsom .
Whoever wins would then have the challenge of trying to negotiate the UK’s exit.
4. Brace yourself for a lot of horse trading
“No, I am not taking a call from Prime Minister Boris”
Britain does not just have to negotiate a new trade deal with the EU.
It will have to strike new agreements with Europe on policing, consumer rights, border control and the environment.
These could all take years to resolve.
The UK will also have to renegotiate trade deals with 53 other countries currently covered by our membership of the EU.
Again this could take several years.
Canada and the EU are only now close to sealing a trade deal – more than a decade after talks first started.
In the meantime we will be covered by the World Trade Organisation rules but this would see the UK paying tariffs of 10% on car exports.
US president Barack Obama has also warned the UK would be “back of the queue” when it came to negotiating a new trade deal with the US, though he will no longer be in office after January next year.
Parliament also faces congestion as MPs unpick EU laws.
Some constitutional experts have said it could take up to 10 years to extricate ourselves from all the legislation.
5. Stand by for Labour pains
Jeremy Corbyn may face a backlash from MPs
If Labour had hoped the referendum would see them reap the rewards as the Tories split then they were gravely mistaken.
The campaign has exposed divisions within the party with many MPs dissatisfied with what they see as Jeremy Corbyn ’s lacklustre support for Remain.
There are rumours that if Leave wins some Labour MPs will push for a leadership challenge.
There are also fears that the referendum is causing the same damage to Labour as the Scottish vote on independence.
In Scotland, the party haemorrhaged support among its working class supporters after backing the establishment side.
The referendum has widened the already fragile alliance and could drive a wedge between its urban, middle class members and its working class base, many of whom are already turning to Europe.
6. It is bad for the constitution
Nicola Sturgeon could press for a second referendum on Scottish independence
There are genuine concerns that Brexit could hasten the break up of the UK.
It has already exposed the cultural and political gap between London and other urban areas and other parts of the country.
But it could add fresh fuel to the case for independence in Scotland.
The pro-European Scottish Nationalist Party could push for another referendum based on the case that it is the only way it could rejoin the EU.
In Northern Ireland it could destabilise the peace process if border controls have to be reintroduced, stoking sectarian sentiment.
Westminster could also be thrown into constitutional crisis if pro-EU MPs, who are in a majority, carry out their threat to hold a vote to keep the UK in the single market.