People sometimes talk as though politics and voting do not matter very much. Britons woke up on the morning after their referendum on Europe to find they matter very much indeed. For better or worse, they have cast their votes and cut their country's economic mooring with a nearby continent of 500 million people. It is comparable to New Zealanders voting to leave our Closer Economic Relations with Australia, if Australia had twice its present population. Having persuaded a narrow majority of Britain's voters to take this fateful step the leaders of the Leave campaign are not in a hurry to take the next step. They had assured the voters they could preserve all the trade benefits of EU membership after leaving the club, now they want to take all the time they can to negotiate the "terms" of their exit.

They are not in a position to negotiate anything. As soon as they notify the European Council of Britain's intention to leave, the council comprising leaders of the 28 member states can close the doors to trade from Britain and invite British-based companies selling good and services in Europe to apply for continued access on terms set by the EU. Boris Johnson and the rest of the Brexit crew know very well that is what EU governments want to do, which is one reason they do not want the British Government to give formal notice of their intentions yet.

The other reason is that Prime Minister David Cameron does not want to lead the Government that has to take Britain out of Europe and his party has to set about choosing his successor. This task, too, is not as straightforward as would have been predicted before the referendum. The repercussions of last Thursday's vote are such that some are having second thoughts.

Tory MPs on both sides of the Europe debate will be wary now about putting Mr Johnson, or anyone like him, in Downing St.


An achingly slow, drawn-out departure would suit Britain very well but it is not in the interests of the EU or the world economy. Uncertainty is a recipe for instability on international currency and stock markets which have already plunged in response to Britain's vote. The international economy remains as fragile as it has been since the financial crisis. It is barely growing in leading economies and it would not take much to tip into recession again. Already the US Federal Reserve is stepping back from a further lift in its interest rates.

But if Britain stands to suffer most from its foolish decision last week, the EU could be hurt just as badly if it cannot eject Britain quickly. The longer Britain delays its departure the better its chances of leaving on favourable terms. The mere prospect that it might succeed on such terms can only embolden xenophobic sentiment in France and other member states that are feeling the pressure of immigration from North Africa and the Middle East. Nationalist leaders in those countries were as surprised as almost everyone by Britain's vote and, like everyone, they are watching the European Council's response. It needs to be tough.