Politically, I think this is actually going to affect the UK in a number of ways. For a start, the next two years will put the UK in the position of opposing rather than cooperating with the other member states of the European Union, which is significant.
The UK has given up seat at the top table of the largest internal market in the world and, moreover, not just any seat, but a seat as one of the big four states with the greatest influence.
Secondly, Michael Heseltine has correctly identified this as the biggest loss of sovereignty the UK will have experienced in its lifetime. The UK has given up seat at the top table of the largest internal market in the world and, moreover, not just any seat, but a seat as one of the big four states with the greatest influence. It has also the lost the (already limited) influence it had over the world’s second most-important currency and, of course, it loses its role in influencing policy on justice, security matters, and so on. It will retain a relationship with the European Union but it will remove from being a rule-maker to being a rule-taker. Its position will probably be comparable to that enjoyed by Mexico with the United States; or, perhaps a position that is enjoyed in Economic and Monetary Union matters by Denmark with the Eurozone.
It may lead to dissolution of the 200-year-old union with Scotland, in effect, the end of the United Kingdom to that extent.
Thirdly, Brexit will have unquantifiable effects on the United Kingdom itself. It may lead to dissolution of the 200-year-old union with Scotland, in effect, the end of the United Kingdom to that extent. It will have a destabilizing influence on Northern Ireland and, if border controls come with it, which seems likely, it could possibly lead to recurrence of violence in Northern Ireland. Economically, Brexit will improve the case for reunification of the Republic but, I am not sure if the impact will be enough for the majority of Northern Irish population to vote for that. But it will certainly make the economic case for the Northern Ireland leaving the UK stronger than it was. It will also lead incidentally to grave difficulties (depending on how hard Brexit is) for the Republic of Ireland.
A fourth political point is that it is very damaging for the European Union, which has provided a reliable framework for peace and prosperity in Europe for 60 years. The United Kingdom was dragged into two massive wars in the 20th century in Europe, so the UK has a stake in Europe’s political and economic stability, going far beyond the single market. Anything that destabilizes an arrangement that has successfully kept the peace for the last 60 years in Europe is extremely serious, including for the United Kingdom. Early signs are that it will weather the storm but we need to keep a watching brief.
Socially, I think the main impact will derive from Brexit’s economic effects. In other words, the social impact that Brexit will have on Britain will depend on how hard the economic impact is. It is difficult to predict that in advance, since we don’t yet know how ‘hard’ Brexit will be.
Theresa May did initially indicate in her Lancaster House speech that she was going to pull Britain out of the Customs Union, which would be a very hard Brexit, if she intends to go through with that. She didn’t repeat that in her letter yesterday but, if she does intend to do that, Brexit could be quite economically severe.
Paradoxically, many of those actually voted for Brexit are going to be the hardest hit.
Take farmers, for instance: they receive big subventions from the EU, and these are guaranteed by the UK government - but only until 2020. After that, given the relative lack of political muscle enjoyed by farmers in the UK, they will almost certainly fall. The consequences for the farming community are unquantifiable, but they will be considerable. Even how they farm will be affected - being able to this in the most environmentally friendly way is currently funded by the European Union. That will go, once the subsidies are lost. The impact should include reduced profits, more unemployment, and, potentially, increased difficulty in conducting of business, as far as that includes exports. Fishing communities will most likely suffer since, paradoxically, they export over 70% of their products to EU states.
Source: National Farmer's Union (NFU).
Secondly, any community that receives EU regional funds will suffer. Wales which, paradoxically, voted for Brexit, is correctly worried about that. Of course, the most vulnerable communities are going to be hit hardest.
Thirdly, if the UK leaves the Customs Union, manufacturers will be hit hard. This means reduced profits, unemployment and increased poverty.
Fourthly, the City of London is going to lose out - jobs will move to other 27 member states, meaning less job opportunities, less profits, less prosperity and all that goes with it.
The position of migrants from other countries is already difficult, due to the ongoing uncertainty about their status and that of their families. Hopefully, the worst will not come to pass, but obviously that is a very difficult solution that has major implications for a lot of people and their families.
Culturally, it would be a bit hard to predict. It is fair to say that the UK had already seen an increase in intolerance and xenophobia, following on the from June 23rd vote. I think the Brexit vote somehow liberated into the public sphere strains of thought that we wish weren’t there, making it more politically acceptable to express anti-immigrant sentiments. If the UK remains serious about reducing immigration from other EU member states, that culturally would cause the UK to be less culturally diverse compared to other European countries in terms of the presence of citizens from other countries. On the other hand, it may be that this diversity will have to be replaced by immigration from non-EU countries, so we will have to wait and see what implications are there.
I really think that if the United Kingdom’s economy is to continue to prosper, it is going to continue to need immigration. A considerable proportion of the Brexit vote seemed to be directed by concerns about immigration - but ironically, I don’t really see reductions in it as being feasible.
If immigration control is imposed, then any industry that depends on migration is going to be hit hard. That includes the farming industry, the tourism industry, and the NHS. In terms of immigration, it all depends on how hard Brexit will be.