For the first time in the history of European integration, a member state has decided to leave the bloc. European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said the decision would be respected. The remaining 27 member states in the Union would continue and stood ready to start negotiations on the exit procedure, Juncker said.
Global markets plummeted and saw the pound falling by as much as ten percent against the US dollar. The International Monetary Fund's Christine Lagarde called for the EU and the UK to "work collaboratively" towards a smooth transition of their economic relationship. London's benchmark FTSE 100 index closed the day down just 3.2 percent, while the stock exchanges in Frankfurt and Paris slumped by 6.2 and 8 percent, respectively.
German foreign minister says negotiations on British EU exit should begin 'as soon as possible.'
European Parliament President Martin Schulz: "I expect that the negotiations on the exit will now begin quickly."
The British Parliament, as an independent body, is not required to take up negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to negotiate an exit from the European Union. Such a step, however, would be unprecedented and observers say it's highly unlikely.
On Friday, leaders of the European Parliament's political factions will meet in Brussels to discuss the result of the referendum. The majority have expressed a desire to pursue a quick separation from Britain in a worst case scenario. A year should be sufficient time to unwind EU contracts and organize a withdrawal.
It is unclear, however, how long it will take to create a new relationship between Britain and the EU. Will Britain be a normal non-member country like the United States or Saudi Arabia? Will it receive special partnership status? Or, will it perhaps join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), like Norway and Switzerland, with the obligations and privileges that this would entail.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz will be the first top representative from Brussels to step in front of the cameras and comment on the result. In an interview ahead of his speech he said he expected talks with the UK to begin soon.
"The United Kingdom has decided to go its own way. I think the economic data show this morning that it will be a very difficult way," Schulz told German public broadcaster ZDF. "I expect that the negotiations on the exit will now begin quickly."
Schulz and the two other presidents of Europe's largest institutions - the Commission and Council - will also meet for consultations. Following the meeting, Jean Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and Schulz are expected to answer the question: What now? Of course phonelines between Brussels and the capitals of Europe will be white hot with activity. Berlin and Paris have prepared a joint statement. Poland may also join them.
In Luxembourg, the EU General Council will gather for a special meeting. The Council, which normally consists solely of state secretaries and other officials, is to prepare its conclusions for decisions to be made at the EU summit the following week. These decisions will prepare the path for Britain and the EU in the wake of the referendum: Will there be a quick and bloody divorce, a long period of negotiations or will things remain as they are? In light of the special circumstances German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will fly to Luxembourg personally.
Saturday, June 25
The foreign ministers of the six nations that signed the "Treaty of Rome," founding the European Union in 1957, will meet in Berlin or Brussels. Ministers from the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Italy and Germany want to consult about what must happen with the EU in the event that the UK withdraws: Further intensified cooperation, a loosening of the same or the formation of a new core Europe consisting of these six countries?
Sunday, June 26
The German-French tandem, the so-called heart of the EU, will have to step up: Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande want to meet in either Berlin or Paris. They have to find answers and prepare for the coming meeting of heads of state and government at the EU summit.
Tuesday, June 28 and Wednesday, June 29
The Council of Europe, comprised of the heads of state and government from the EU's 28 member states, will convene in Brussels. 28? Perhaps Cameron might not come at all, or simply in a managerial capacity should his people have decided to leave. Should they vote remain, however, then he might as well show off a bit and demand the expansion of Britain's special status in the EU.
Then the EU would definitely enact the plan that it drew up at a special summit in February: The goal of an "ever closer Union" will be crossed out in deference to Britain. Social benefits for EU citizens living in Britain would be cut. And the European Economic and Monetary Union, of which Britain is not a member, will be expanded in such a way as not to effect the financial center of London.