What does the Brexit vote mean, and what happens now?


In a historic referendum held on June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. People in Britain, Europe, and the world are bound to be affected, but only time will tell exactly how. (BBC)

Wait, let’s back up: What is Brexit again? See our first Current Event Connection on Brexit.
Let’s back up even more: What is the EU?

Educators, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

The European Union currently has 28 member states. The United Kingdom has the second-largest GDP (behind Germany), and the second-largest population (behind Germany and France). Map by Ssolbergj, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

Discussion Ideas

  • Who voted, and what were the results?
    • A referendum is a vote open to (nearly) all citizens of voting age. 71.8 percent of eligible voters (or more than 30 million people) turned out for the vote.
    • 52 percent of those who turned out for the referendum voted to leave the EU compared to 48 percent who voted to remain.


  • Were there any patterns in how people across the UK voted?
    • The majority of voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain part of the EU.
    • The majority of voters in England and Wales voted to leave the EU.
    • London voted to remain in the EU, a stance mirrored by many other urban areas.
    • There was a significant generation divide among voters. Only about 19 percent of people between the ages of 18 to 24 supported Britain leaving the EU, while older voters favored leaving.


  • What has happened so far as a result of the referendum?
    • British Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would resign this year.
      • In 2013, Cameron helped unite a divided Conservative Party by promising a referendum with a “very simple in-or-out choice” about whether to stay in the EU. This move was politically successful—the Conservative party became more united and Cameron remained at the helm.
        • Cameron did not expect the referendum to lead to a “leave” outcome and has never supported leaving the EU.
      • The global economy was influenced.
        • The day after the vote, the value of the British pound fell by 10%. It has not been this weak against the US dollar since the 1980s.
        • Stock markets around the world plunged. For example, the Dow fell over 600 points in a single day.
      • Racially-charged incidents occurred that may have been connected.
        • Many supporters of Brexit were motivated by a concern about immigration or perceived over-immigration. Polish people in particular are a newly significant population—more than two million have immigrated to the UK since Poland joined the EU in 2004.
          • Incidents such as racist graffiti on the Polish Social and Cultural Association were allegedly fueled by the referendum.
        • Political turmoil has ensued in Britain.
          • In addition to David Cameron stepping down on the Conservative Party side, more than 10 people from the opposition Labour Party have resigned or were fired over opposition to their party’s leader.


  • What is expected to happen in the coming months and years?
    • The new British prime minister will negotiate the terms of withdrawal.
    • Scotland may vote to leave the UK and may even try to block Brexit’s execution.
    • If some parties in Ireland get their way, the country may be united with Northern Ireland.
    • The Spanish government may try to take control of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar.


  • Why does this matter for Americans and other countries around the world?
    • Global financial markets may continue to be affected, especially if the EU deteriorates further.
    • The United States—along with many other countries—are invested in a unified Europe to help maintain a broader peace through global alliances.



BBC: The UK’s EU referendum: All you need to know

BBC: Brexit: EU spells out procedure for UK to leave

NPR’s Planet Money: Episode 770: Brexit

TIME: The UK’s Old Decided for the Young in the Brexit Vote

Vox: Brexit: 9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask

The Guardian: Racist incidents feared to be linked to Brexit result

CNN Money: Dow plunges over 600 points as UK ‘earthquake’ crushes global markets

Aljazeera: Scottish leader threatens to veto Brexit

Reuters: Britain to become ‘new Norway’ after Brexit: Finland’s Stubb

The Wall Street Journal: ‘Brexit’ Sparks Political Turmoil Across U.K.

Nat Geo: What is the Brexit?

Nat Geo: 1992: Maastricht Treaty Creates European Union

7 thoughts on “What does the Brexit vote mean, and what happens now?

  1. Everything has two aspect good and bad… Leaving EU will be in favourable or against UK time will tell… Hope whatever happens will be good for economical, political, and social development….

  2. Please change your first paragraph to reflect the true position which is that only 27% of the British population voted to leave the EU.

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