The UK’s vote to leave the European Union will probably be the most momentous political event of my life and its ramifications will be felt for years to come. I am deeply disappointed by the result, though not surprised.

For the past seven years, I’ve lived and worked in India. I retain strong professional and family ties with the UK and a lot of my work revolves around UK-India business. Last month, travelling across the UK, I experienced first hand the deep divisions and undercurrents that swirled within the referendum debate. In May, I was in London – a city whose strength comes in large part from its diversity and ability to assimilate migrant communities – when it voted in its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, a passionate advocate of Remain, the campaign to stay in Europe.

At the same time I saw in other parts of the country the strength of support for the Leave campaign as it stoked fears of immigration and uncertainty. The referendum seemed to have given binary focus to a host of frustrations about job market insecurity; economic decline; austerity measures and lack of investment in services; politicians in thrall of big business and out of touch with the concerns of working people outside the capital, and a handful of other large cities.

Returning, I see a nation unsure of its place in the world. That sentiment has crystallised in a vote for Leave.

Shrinking role

Brexit means the UK’s role on the international stage will be diminished and its already-waning influence will reduce further. It’s not just a small, once powerful, rain-swept island on the western fringe of Europe that will be impacted. The decision has profound implications for the other 27 members of the European Union and for the UK’s friends and allies across the globe. I like to think India remains one of those allies but it’s hard to see how the UK vote helps it achieve its goal of building stronger links.

It is clear that the UK will suffer economically. A long line of respected figures lined up to make the economic case for staying within the EU. Despite the undoubted strength of the economic argument, the Leave campaign was able to drown it out with its anti-immigrant rhetoric and drew broad support with its mantra of taking back control.

For the victors on the Leave side of the debate, the vote is a cause for celebration. Their hope is that outside the EU, the UK can carve out new relationships and trade deals that are unencumbered by what they view as the overreaching, unelected bureaucrats of Brussels. There is no evidence that the countries they wish to trade with, including India, have any urgent desire or need to make those deals.

Backing into a corner

I fear that their go-it-alone attitude will isolate the UK. Once it has left the EU, it will no longer have influence within the world’s biggest single market. It is turning its back on around 500 million consumers in the belief that somehow on its own it can negotiate better terms. Its place as a stepping-stone to Europe is being surrendered.

This has been one of the UK’s great attractions for inbound investors, including many Indian companies, who have leveraged their historic ties to the former colonial power to access the Eurozone.

Last week, at the Gateway of India Dialogue here in Mumbai, I asked the Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar his view on a possible Brexit. He dodged the question, refusing to be drawn on the internal politics of another nation: “We’ll see what the voters say,” he said.

Fair enough. But now the voters have spoken and Brexit is not just an issue for the UK. It’s a reality for us all. An inward-looking nation turning its back on its nearest neighbours, just over half its population giving a metaphorical middle finger to the Establishment, will surely struggle to make its case as an investment destination of choice. It’s difficult to see how this isolationist approach will help attract capital or the highly skilled migrants that an ageing nation needs or the entrepreneurial talent that drives growth.