The referendum itself was advisory, rather than legally binding, and nothing was legally set in motion as a result of the vote.
Theoretically, the government could ignore the result, although doing so would presumably prompt an angry reaction from the 52% of Brits who voted to leave.
“The referendum doesn’t itself trigger Brexit,” said Kenneth Armstrong, professor of European law at the University of Cambridge. “It still requires the decision of a government.”
Specifically, a Brexit requires the UK government to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU legislation governing a potential breakup.
During the referendum campaign, Prime Minister David Cameron, who led the Remain campaign, repeatedly said that a Leave victory would automatically result in the triggering of Article 50. But in the wake of the shocking Leave victory, he has said he plans to resign in October and will leave it to his successor to invoke the article — raising hopes among some that it might not happen.