Let’s consider the options for the UK. First and foremost there is a matter of timing to trigger the Article 50 of the TEU. The date is set for autumn after the Conservative party leadership election. Nothing will formally change until that is done. In practical terms the UK might be reducing its participation in EU decision-making as the resigning of the financial services EU commissioner could be the first step in this direction. But what is next until the autumn comes? It seems not much.
The UK will keep its seat and vote in the EU Council, will keep its MEP’s, as well as members in other EU institutions. The UK will continue its contributions to the EU budget and will be bound by EU policies under existing terms. Even after the triggering of Article 50, the UK, at least, will have two years to negotiate the terms of leaving during which it will enjoy its rights and obligations of the EU member state.
It stays, unless it triggers the Article 50. Nothing will change until then, except that the deal that was reached on UK’s EU membership terms will no longer apply. In that case the UK is pushed back to a business as usual. This could be a comfortable situation of a current modus operandi that was challenged by 52 percent UK voters that voted to leave.
If it stays as it is, it will be more about domestic politics. Failing to win the EU referendum the political parties would be supportive of this uncertainty period in hope it will wash down the distrust of their electorate. This would equally apply to the Labour being supportive of EU social rights agenda or to the Conservatives favouring the EU single market and better regulation initiatives.
This uncertainty period would also feed into the hopes of remaining in the EU to the City, the capital, the businesses, the overall middle-class or to a younger population, to all those signing up to the UK Parliament petition. Even to those who feel cheated during the leave campaign about threats of immigration that it seems now won’t change substantially.
This becomes true as there are no clear alternatives for the UK to the costs and benefits of the EU membership. The UK does not want to be another Norway, Switzerland or Canada, a member of EEA or WTO trading partner to the EU. It simply cannot ignore the fact it is in Europe and it is a part of Europe.
And this becomes especially true when everyone now tends to realise the impact of the leave vote on the unitedness of the UK, especially on Scotland’s independence or North Ireland’s unionist claims both directly linked with their vote to stay in the EU. And there would be no one who wanted to start a chain reaction, not even the architects of the leave EU vote. It is planned for a new leadership in autumn and this fact now scares everyone, even Mr Boris who might be the only favourite.
Political elites find themselves in a stalemate situation which in order to prevent a deeper political crisis urgently needs a solution. This solution is about elections, and in this case it is about the early Parliamentary elections. And there the saviours might be the Liberal democrats who always have been the strongest voice about staying in the EU.
The early Parliamentary elections could be a de facto second EU referenda only presented differently. And it would be the last straw to hold on.
And the UK could hold, as would hold its partners France or the Netherlands after a hypothetical Frexit or Drexit vote. Yes, this will undermine the referendum result and the trust of voters. And yes, it would look as a crisis of the leadership.
But one has to understand that the EU is a project of evolution and not of revolutions, even if these is a peaceful change in a democracy that has a history of many centuries. Especially, when this referenda was about the trust which is already low and can only be regained with a new mandate after the new elections.
Populism is as old as politics. It has always been among us. Though it loves attacking technocratic governments that distances themselves from the people, it usually vanishes with emergence of accountable political leadership.
And yes, the UK vote will have an impact on the EU itself. As everything does making the EU to evolve irreversibly and constantly step by step towards politically accountable liberal democracy.