LONDON: British politics was upended Friday by a shock vote to leave the EU which forced Prime Minister David Cameron to quit, triggered a leadership race and raised doubts the country could survive in its current form.
Announcing his resignation outside Downing Street, Cameron said a new leader should be in place by October.
His successor faces an uphill struggle to heal divisions in both the country and the ruling Conservative party and could face pressure to call a new general election, even though it is just a year since Cameron won the last one.
There were already signs that pro-EU Scotland could move to hold a fresh independence referendum, as well as fears that stability in Northern Ireland could also be threatened by the move.
The main opposition Labor Party was not immune from the turmoil, either.
Its leader, veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn, had campaigned reluctantly to keep Britain in the EU and he is now facing criticism from some in his party after many traditional Labor areas backed Brexit.
“The ramifications leave one giddy,” wrote political commentator Matthew d’Ancona in the t“Yes, this will have immense consequences for the Westminster drama: not only for David Cameron, who bet the farm and lost; but also for Jeremy Corbyn who conspicuously failed to deliver the Labor heartlands,” he said. “But the high political soap opera is belittled by the constitutional and economic implications.”
Anand Menon, director of the UK In A Changing Europe academic research group, added: “Nationalist politicians, be they in Scotland, Northern Ireland or England, will be making hay.”
Favorite to succeed Cameron is Boris Johnson, the leading Brexiteer and former London mayor.
Other contenders, whose policies are seen as closer to Cameron, could include Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and finance minister George Osborne—though his hopes may have been damaged by his close links to the premier.
“Now the question will be in terms of a leadership contest—will there be a single candidate or a contest? And from which camp will that person come?” said Andrew Blick, a politics lecturer at King’s College London.
“But it also has to be remembered that the Labor Party has not had a great night either—and there will now be some serious questions to be asked about their leadership too.”
Corbyn, who won the Labor leadership last year thanks to grassroots support, much of it from young voters, is deeply unpopular with many MPs.
John Mann, a pro-Brexit Labor MP, said he was “out of touch” with traditional working-class Labor voters who were “sick to death” with his policies.
There were also reports of a leadership challenge brewing against Corbyn.
The constitutional consequences of the vote could run deeper.
Scotland’s ruling Scottish National Party has long indicated that a Brexit vote could provide momentum for a second referendum after independence was rejected in a previous vote in 2014.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said early Friday that Scotland sees its future as “part of the EU”, fueling speculation.
In Northern Ireland, there are fears that tensions could be raised following years of relative calm in sectarian conflict due to the restoration of a hard border with Ireland, an EU member state.
Republican Sinn Fein has already called for a vote on uniting Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland after the Brexit vote.