Brexit: what next for Britain, Australia and the world?

24 June 2016

In light of the historic referendum resulting in a call for Britain to leave the European Union, our experts explain what the change could mean for Europe, Australia and the rest of the world.

Brexit "Vote Leave" sign on display in London. Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

Brexit "Vote Leave" sign in Islington, London. Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

What are some of the biggest risks facing Britain now?

"We are in uncharted waters. The risks to the British economy, society and the environment of leaving the European Union are real. It would lose a Prime Minister. With Scotland wanting to remain in the EU, the United Kingdom could fracture. And the nation would be set on an uncertain and complex process of renegotiating numerous treaties and agreements while still having an economy closely tied to Europe," says Adjunct Professor Nick Rowley, visiting fellow at the Sydney Democracy Network.

"Amongst the more obvious ramifications of a 'leave' vote is the likely resignation of most of the front bench of the governing Conservative party including David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and George Osborne, the Chancellor. The UK Government would be left in tatters," says Professor Simon Tormey, Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences.

What could happen to Australians who have UK passports?

"Australians with UK passports may find that their access to work and travel in Europe is compromised, perhaps seriously so," says Professor Tormey.

Will there likely be any impact on Australia's economy?  

"Brexit is unlikely to have any direct effects on Australia. Our agreements with Europe are likely to remain unchanged and any new agreement with an independent UK will most likely be concluded on advantageous terms to Australia," says Associate Professor Mark Melatos from the School of Economics.

"However, secondary effects on Australia's economy are likely. Brexit will create political – not just economic – uncertainty leading to increased volatility in international trade and financial markets and dampening global (and, hence, Australian) economic growth in the near term as the world adjusts to the new reality." 

How will the UK economy react?

"Brexit will bring both costs and benefits to the UK economy.  A vote in favour of leaving the EU will almost certainly result in a significant depreciation of the Pound, making British exporters more internationally competitive overnight and boosting UK GDP. On the other hand, the cost of Brexit will depend on what happens next. How quickly will the UK reacquire its European trade preferences? And how punitive will those terms be? How proactive will the UK be in using its newfound 'freedom' to conclude agreements with other countries (e.g. US, China, Australia)? And on what terms?" asks Associate Professor Melatos.

"Brexit will leave the UK in a weakened bargaining position vis-à-vis their trade partners. All potential trading partners will know that the UK will be keen to conclude agreements to replace the EU as soon as possible – and it is likely that they would seek to take advantage of that weakness."

What impact will the 'leave' vote have on migration to the UK?

"Brexit will probably not reduce migration to the UK, however migrants will be more likely to enter under the Home Office's points-based system, and to come from more distant countries. Refugees and asylum seekers will still be able to apply for protection in the UK, which is a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention," says Professor Stephen Castles, Research Chair of Sociology at the University of Sydney.


Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Assistant Media and PR Adviser (Division of Humanities and Social Sciences)