So, what now?
The immediate answer is: Nothing. As the prime minister made clear in his resignation speech this morning, it will be months before the government triggers Article 50 and initiates withdrawal proceedings, and, even after it has done that, progress is likely to be sedulous and slow. In time, there will be fireworks. But for now there are markets to calm and voters to unite, and there is at least one leadership election to stage. Triumphant as the Leave campaign may be feeling this morning, last night was less akin to Agincourt and more akin to the second meeting of the Great Council. Yes, the United Kingdom has declared its independence; but the fighting has only just begun.
I have seen it suggested — or, perhaps, hoped — that the powers-that-be will simply “ignore” the vote to leave. This is not going to happen. In a strictly legal sense, Parliament is sovereign and can do as it wishes. In consequence, this referendum was technically not binding. Culturally, though, any indication that the government was trying to defy the voters would trigger a catastrophic constitutional crisis. Speaking in front of Downing Street this morning, David Cameron set the tone: “The British people,” he confirmed, “have voted to leave the EU and their will must be respected.” “The will of the British people,” Cameron added, “is an instruction that must be delivered.” Sadly for him, the task of making that delivery will fall to his successor.