This is the biggest political decision that the UK has taken in my lifetime. Britain is now at the start of a process of leaving the EU which will be complicated and will take time, probably several years. David Cameron will stay on as prime minister for three months to provide stability as we begin that process, but will then step down. There is no precise timetable, but the prime minister’s aim is to have a new premier in place by the start of the Conservative Party Conference in October.
There has been huge interest in this decision in Israel, as there has been around the world. I’ve been asked many times why the British people voted as they did. It’s hard to generalize about 33 million individual decisions. It was an intense, passionate campaign in which the issues—around the economy, security, immigration and Britain’s place in the world—were exhaustively debated. But David Cameron was clear that the government accepted the result and would start work to implement the decision the British people had made.
Israelis, of course, wonder what the vote will mean for them—including the many who work or study in the UK, who do business there or who know it as a favourite holiday destination. Much of this will take time to work through. In the short term, I doubt Israelis visiting the UK will notice any practical difference, apart from British people talking as much about politics as they normally do about football and the weather.
It is important for me to underline what else I do not expect to change in the months and years to come.
First, the UK was a friend and partner of Israel before we joined the European Union and we will be so after we have left the EU.
Second, we have record levels of cooperation in trade, investment, science and technology, and it will be strongly in the interests of both countries to develop those ties even further. We are doing well—better than we ever have in the past—but the untapped potential is still huge.
Third, the threats to both our countries from instability, extremism and terrorism are unlikely to reduce any time soon, so we must continue deepening our security and defense cooperation. That too will not change.
Fourth, Britain will remain an important international actor. We have the world’s fifth largest economy, with world class financial services, tech, creative and engineering industries. We are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We are a leading member of the Commonwealth, the G7 and the G20 and the second biggest contributor to NATO. Our armed forces are amongst the strongest in the world.
Fifth, the things that have given the UK such disproportionate global cultural impact—the Royal Family, the premier league, music from the Beatles to Bowie to Adele, the brilliance of Sir Tim Berners Lee, the impact of creative talent like that of Dame Helen Mirren, who visited Israel last week—will not change either.
I said when we celebrated The Queen’s 90 birthday in Raanana Park earlier this month that the UK was a country transformed during her 65-year reign, economically, socially and demographically. There is more transformation to come. It will be challenging, for sure. But Britain has survived and prospered over the last thousand years through a peculiar mix of continuity and change. I don’t expect that to change.