No one thought it could happen. No one thought the voters could really be that unpredictable. But they were and it did. For once, I'm not talking about Donald Trump winning the Republication nomination. I'm talking about "Brexit"--the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union. That decision was voted in by a slim majority of British voters on Thursday. With all but a handful of towns counted, victory was declared for the Leave campaign shortly after 4 a.m. local time Friday morning, or about 11 p.m. Eastern time. Shortly thereafter, British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for Britain to remain in the E.U., announced that he would resign.
What happens now? No one really knows, since no nation has ever departed from the European Union before. But here are a few things you can expect.
1. Britain won't actually leave the EU--at least not for a while.
Although no one is fully certain of what the process is for leaving the European Union, E.U. rules say it can take two years for a nation to leave. It won't be a quick process, no one is sure how to do it, and significantly most of Britain's political leaders don't want to do it at all. So look for the actual exit to take a while to execute. Even though everything has changed--nothing will actually change for quite a while.
2. Markets will plunge.
This is already happening in Asia and Europe and the U.S. are likely to follow suit. Whether we're likely to see a temporary drop or another 2008 is very much open to question, though most experts believe the former is likelier than the latter.
3. Britain's economy will suffer.
This is also already happening, with the pound dropping 9 percent since the vote, hitting its lowest levels against the U.S. dollar since 1985. That may put the British government in the odd position of having to raise interest rates in a badly weakened economy--the opposite of what central banks usually do--to slow the pound's fall.
Several large international banks had warned before the vote that they would have to move some operations out of Britain if it were no longer an E.U. member. And trade between Britain and E.U. will certainly more constrained than it was before, though no one knows for sure what the new rules will be.
4. Investment money will head to the U.S.
The U.S. economy has been stronger over the past few years than that of most other nations. Tonight's vote means an already troubled Europe is only heading for more headaches (the euro also fell, though not as badly as the pound). The Asian economy is rattled by a slowdown in China and once-mighty Brazil is in crisis. There just aren't that many stable places left for investors to put their money and a lot of it will come here, perhaps heading to the bond markets, driving yields down.
5. There will be opportunities for smart entrepreneurs.
Change and confusion always create opportunities for companies that can step in and help customers navigate a shifting landscape. In particular, financial tech solutions will be needed to reflect Britain's altered relationship with the E.U., and with every other nation. Founders who create companies that address any of these needs are likely to do well.
6. It could conceivably affect the U.S. presidential election.
Some observers believe the Brexit vote portends victory for Donald Trump in November. Why? Because the Leave movement was fueled in large part by surprisingly strong anti-immigrant sentiment, and Trump's vocal anti-immigrant positions are at the center of his campaign.
I'm skeptical. Europe is struggling to absorb massive numbers of Syrian refugees. If Turkey joins the E.U., as it wants to do, then the E.U. will actually border Syria. Once in the E.U., immigrants can head where they like and Britain has seen an influx of about 330,000 people last year, most of them from the E.U. Immigration is certainly a hot-button topic here, but I believe it is a different topic than it is in Europe.
Then again you never know. Nobody really believed Brexit would happen. Now that it has, no one really knows what's next.