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U.K. Vote Shocks The World. What's Next?


All this morning we're covering the historic, possibly seismic decision by voters in the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union.


Among many other things, this was a huge defeat for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has already announced that he will be stepping down.

MARTIN: And it was a victory for fellow Conservative Boris Johnson, who led the leave campaign. Boris Johnson spoke just a few minutes ago.


BORIS JOHNSON: I believe it was entirely right and inevitable and indeed that there is no way of dealing with a decision on this scale except by putting it to the people because in the end this question is about the people. It's about the right of the people of this country to settle their own destiny.

GREENE: All right, among the many voices we're hearing from this morning, The Economist magazine's Washington bureau chief David Rennie is in our studio with us. David, thanks for coming in this morning.


GREENE: So Boris Johnson, that is a voice that many in this country, many in the world, will probably be hearing a lot from. He very well could be the next British prime minister. He gave an address there that seemed very calm talking about that the - the European Union had become opaque and remote but that even with this vote Britain would remain part of the European community - sort of a speech not characteristic of Boris Johnson, right?

RENNIE: So Boris Johnson is just as much a member of the elite as David Cameron. They were at the same elite school, Oxford. They went to the same university, Eton and Oxford. But he's been playing a populist from time to time. And I think Americans need to realize what a shock it will be if he becomes prime minister and comes to the White House to meet Barack Obama. Boris Johnson is the man who as a newspaper columnist when Barack Obama was in the U.K. a couple of months ago said, we shouldn't listen to his warnings about Brexit because this guy is a part Kenyan who some say has an ancestral dislike of the British Empire. So he was willing to unleash those forces to win this election.

MARTIN: A populist rhetorical style, someone who has really played that up and talked about the damage that elites can do and how regular Britons need to take charge of their destiny. This is some of the same language we've seen from Donald Trump in this presidential election here in this country. Have they been working similar political ground?

RENNIE: So some of the voting - if you look at the opinion polls and you look at who are the voters for Brexit and who are the voters for Trump, there are clear parallels. It's outside the big cities. London was massively in favor of staying. Young people voted 75 percent to stay. It's an older, whiter, less educated - people who feel that they're the victims from globalization and foreigners kind of making their country feel no longer theirs again.

But there are differences, and this is what someone like Boris Johnson is going to wrestle with is he's essentially promising that you can have everything that you still - you liked about the European Union while getting rid of all the stuff you disliked. So he's promising it'll be smooth, it'll be easy, it won't be bumpy. He's made a lot of promises about America, that America will embrace this Britain - offer you a fantastic new free trade deal.

Barack Obama made the point actually America is very busy at the moment. It's not easy to get free trade deals passed. This is going to be hard. All of those hard truths have been swept aside in this kind of moment of let's go for this big risk, but I think, you know, now - now we're going to see the realities.

GREENE: Just a couple seconds here left, David. What is next? I mean, what happens - David Cameron leaving in a few months, maybe Boris Johnson coming in - what's the next step?

RENNIE: The next step is we're going to see European signaling whether they're going to punish Britain for this. You know, do they want to show other European countries that this is a bad idea? Do they want to stop the contagion? You're going to see a big rally because essentially the British people have been promised, you can get rid of immigration, you can close your borders but we'll still be able to trade freely. We at The Economist don't think you can have both. You have to choose immigration or prosperity.

GREENE: All right, speaking with The Economist magazine's Washington bureau chief David Rennie. David, thanks a lot.

RENNIE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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