I woke up this morning, after not much sleep, to graphic depictions of the pound crashing, the stock exchange collapsing and markets all over the world in turmoil. I have no doubt that tomorrow, or the next day, the story will be different. Traders will take a step back and notice that nothing, actually, has happened yet. There will be cheap assets to pick up. Markets will stabilize.
The true impact, on Britain and on Europe, will not be visible for many years. In a certain sense, it will not be visible at all, for the real damage will be done by the things that will now not happen. The slow agony of the divorce proceedings will take up precious political time and energy in London and other European capitals, so Europe’s leaders will not unite to cope with other crises. The U.K. will turn farther in on itself, so British energy and talent will not be dedicated to pushing back against the Islamic State, resettling migrants, resisting Russia. The situation of the U.K. will be unstable and uncertain for a long time to come, so investments will not take place. Money will not be spent. Opportunities will not be created.
It is not an exaggeration to say that there are tens of thousands of decisions to be made in the U.K., on legal issues, on joint foreign policy, security and diplomacy and, if Britain leaves the European single market altogether, on tariffs and trade.
Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in Europe, and so the question of Scottish independence necessarily returns. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has called the referendum result “democratically unacceptable” for Scots, and one sees her point.