World / Europe

UK vote to leave the EU blows the whole European plan wide open

By Chris Peterson ( Updated: 2016-06-24 15:15

In the end, it was a close-run thing. But British voters went to the polls on Thursday in a referendum on whether or to stay in the 28-member European Union, and by saying No blew the whole question of the EU's future wide open.

Relying on a mix of calls to patriotism, fear of unlimited immigration and suffocation by what it sees as Brussels red tape and petty rules, the Leave campaign, headed by the maverick former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, just had the edge.

Once the flag-waving and celebrations die down, Britons are going to be left wondering just what they have left themselves in for.

Partners such as China, with whom Britain is currently enjoying a "golden age,” according to President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister David Cameron at the end of the Chinese leader's state visit last October, must be wondering what comes next.

One estimate currently doing the rounds is that it will take 500 British officials and 10 years to negotiate a fresh trade deal with China.

And then there's the Chinese investors who, according to a couple of surveys by real estate companies, were holding off on decisions to buy property in the UK.

Much has been made of the Chinese theory that the UK acts as a sort of bridgehead into the European Union – it is an inescapable fact that setting up a business in the UK involves far less red tape than places such as France, Germany or Italy.

So what happens to that theory now, no-one knows.

In fact the only thing that is certain is years of chaos will ensue as the various ties that have bound the UK to the EU are painstakingly untied.

But that's not all. The can of worms that Cameron opened with what many are now calling a singular lack of political judgement contains another nasty surprise.

Scotland, which voted mainly in favour of remaining in the European Union, is now expected to clamour ever more loudly for another referendum on independence.

Those in favour of independence took 44.7 percent to the Remain camp who took 55.3 percent in a Scottish plebiscite. What it did do was see a resurgence of the Scottish Nationalist Party, the SNP, which holds an overwhelming majority in Scotland's devolved national assembly.

The SNP's argument goes that as it wants overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, therefore it should be allowed to go its own way.

In other words Britain's hapless prime minister has managed, with his decision on holding an EU referendum, to split the country, threaten the future of the EU, divide his own party, as well as usher in months, if not years of uncertainty.

Chris Peterson is Managing Editor, Europe, for China Daily. Contact him on

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