A majority of British voters decided that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, and Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation. Global markets are moving wildly, and currencies are making big moves, but the actual political process will be much, much slower.
First — technically speaking — the referendum is not legally binding. In theory, Cameron, who plans to leave by October, could ignore the will of a slight majority of voters, and not make any moves to exit the political and economic bloc.
But Cameron, who led the campaign to remain in the EU, is likely to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which begins the legal process for leaving the bloc.
"The British people have made the very clear decision to take a different path and as such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction," he said Friday in a televised address outside his residence. "I do not think it would be right for me to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination."
Once Article 50 is invoked, a series of negotiations would begin about how to disentangle the U.K. from the many EU structures to which it is a party. The process could take two years or more, if both the U.K. and the European Council agree to extend the discussion period.
Cameron has said this process would be irreversible.
"We should be clear that this process is not an invitation to rejoin, it is a process for leaving," he said in February.
Some have suggested that British leadership could avoid invoking Article 50 all together, and would instead attempt to negotiate a different — not entirely separate — relationship with the EU.