Brussels, June 24: After Britain decided to leave the European Union (EU) on Thursday, the European Council chief has predicted that the unprecedented political “divorce process” between Britain and the EU could take several years.

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, has warned that re-negotiating the relationship between Britain and the EU could take up to seven years, reported Xinhua news agency.

In accordance with EU law, the British government first has to launch a proposal to activate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets out the procedural requirements for a member state to terminate its membership, after which a “withdrawal agreement” can be negotiated on such things as tariffs on British goods and freedom of movement between Britain and the remaining EU member states.

Legal withdrawal would mean that EU treaties and their protocols no longer apply to Britain, and EU financial programmes would be phased out.

The ratification process could be long and painful, Tusk warned. It is predicted that the EU would offer a tough deal to Britain to dissuade others from leaving.

Earlier as Britain did the unthinkable voting to quit the European Union after 43 years of membership, it threw the world markets in a tailspin, leaving European leaders worried over how to stem a rising Eurosceptic tide.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who had strongly backed the “Remain” vote, said he was quitting.

The European Union’s top leaders on Friday said they expect the UK to act on its momentous vote to leave the union “as soon as possible, however painful that process may be” and that there will be “no renegotiation”.

Britons voted 51.9 per cent for Brexit against 48.1 per cent of ‘Remain’ vote in a historic referendum on Thursday.

England and Wales voted strongly to exit while London, Scotland and Northern Ireland backed the “Remain” vote.

Thursday’s turnout in the referendum was 71.8 percent — the highest in a UK-wide vote since 1992. Over 30 million people voted.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who had been campaigning for 20 long years to dump the EU, called Friday result UK’s “Independence Day”. Britain had joined the European Union on January 1 in 1973.

Farage told cheering supporters that “this will be a victory for ordinary people, for decent people”, while a grim looking Cameron admitted he had lost the battle and would step down by October.

“The British people have decided to follow another path. So they need a new prime minister,” he said in a televised statement outside 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence.

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