Political and business leaders across the continent are now scrambling to understand exactly what Brexit means and how it will impact on the future of the UK and Europe itself.
WHEN WILL THE UK ACTUALLY EXIT THE EUROPEAN UNION?
As things stand, the United Kingdom remains a full member of the European Union and is still bound by its treaties and obligations. The countdown to Brexit will only begin when the UK invokes the now famous Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Essentially, this is the ejector seat of the EU. But once a state presses the button, there’s a two-year wait before it is sprung out of the union.
This time frame - which can be extended by prior agreement - allows negotiations to be carried out and new trade deals to be signed.
Imagine untangling a ball of string that has been intertwined for more than 40 years. “Mind-boggling complexity” is how Tory leadership contender Stephen Crabb summed it up.
A key decision facing the next prime minister is when to invoke Article 50. David Cameron has made it plain he will not do so before he stands aside. Some observers expect the UK to formally leave the EU by 2019.
WHAT WILL THE UK’S RELATIONSHIP BE WITH THE EU ONCE IT LEAVES?
Gordon Brown has mentioned the Norwegian model. Nigel Farage likes to mention Switzerland. UK negotiators will examine both countries - which are non-EU members - and how they trade with the union.
Norway enjoys access to the common market, but accepts freedom of movement for EU citizens in return. Angela Merkel has suggested the UK must agree to the same condition if it wants a similar economic arrangement - and that’s a big problem for any future Conservative Government.
The Leave campaign placed huge emphasis on a need to curb immigration to the UK. David Cameron, at his final meeting with EU leaders this week, blamed Brexit on voters’ beliefs that the UK has “no control” over its borders.
He insisted the principle of freedom of movement must be reformed if the UK is to reach a deal before its exit. One side will have to compromise. And reports from Brussels suggest the EU is in no mood to budge.
CAN SCOTLAND REMAIN A MEMBER OF THE EU?
Just last week, the idea of Scotland striking any kind of deal over EU membership while still part of the UK would have been laughed out of the room. But the old order is dead.
As journalist Dominic Hinde observed: “In even just meeting Nicola Sturgeon, the EU is going against decades of convention on dealing with sub-state territories.”
The Scottish Government must overcome several substantial barriers if it is to achieve its goal of retaining membership for Scots.
One that may prove insurmountable is the opposition of other EU member states which are already concerned about separatist movements within their own borders.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy wasted no time in declaring that if the UK leaves the EU, then so does Scotland. “I want to be very clear,” he said. “Scotland does not have the competence to negotiate with the European Union. Spain opposes any negotiation by anyone other than the government of United Kingdom.”
WHO WILL BECOME PRIME MINISTER?
It was presumed before the referendum that a Leave win would effectively hand the Conservative leadership to Boris Johnson.
But following the result, numerous political commentators have detected a sudden lack of enthusiasm for the top job from the former mayor of London. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, has even suggested Johnson did not mean to win. He claims the MP was hoping for a narrow Remain victory which could still have forced David Cameron out - but would not have resulted in the UK actually leaving the EU. That reluctance could boost the chances of other leadership candidates. Theresa May, the home secretary, and Stephen Crabb, the work and pensions secretary, have both declared their candidacies this week.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT ON THE UK’S INTERNATIONAL STANDING?
Foreign leaders, from Barack Obama to Francois Hollande, made no secret of their desire to see the UK remain a member of the EU, and regularly cited a loss of influence internationally as a major downside of the UK going it alone. Commentators from across the EU nations greeted the Brexit vote with scorn. Süddeutsche Zeitung - the largest subscription daily newspaper in Germany - declared in an editorial that “the UK has catapulted itself to the back of the list of important nations in the world”.
It concluded: “Retreat rather than proactively seeking change: it’s a solution from the wrong century”. But the impact of Brexit stretches far beyond Europe.
Foreign Affairs, a respected journal on global diplomacy, has claimed it will have a serious effect on Africa. In an article published this week, it noted: “The rule of thumb for EU policy toward Africa is a three-way divide: one-third Britain, one-third France, and one-third everyone else.
“For the next two years — or as long as Brexit takes — British taxpayers will continue to pay their country’s dues, but few Europeans will listen to what British diplomats and aid officials have to say about how the money is spent.”
WILL SCOTLAND HOLD A SECOND REFERENDUM ON INDEPENDENCE?
Scotland backed continued EU membership by a clear majority. Many now speculate whether the only way to achieve it is by breaking from the UK. Nicola Sturgeon has said the option of a second vote is “on the table” but has so far ruled out setting a date for any future referendum.
Meanwhile, Conservatives at both Holyrood and Westminster insist “now is not the time” to be talking about the break-up of the UK. But the likelihood of a second vote is already being taken seriously by international markets.
JP Morgan Chase - the largest bank in the US and sixth largest in the world - briefed investors this week that it expects a vote “shortly before the UK leaves the EU” in 2019. The memo added: “Our base case is that Scotland will vote for independence and institute a new currency at that point.”