LONDON, United Kingdom, Jun 24 – Britain voted to break away from the European Union Friday, toppling Prime Minister David Cameron and dealing a thunderous blow to the 60-year-old bloc that sent world markets plunging.
Cameron announced he would step down to make way for a new leader by early October after voters opted to exit the 28-nation alliance in defiance of his predictions of economic disaster and isolation.
Britons decided 52 percent to 48 percent in favour of quitting the bloc, a margin of more than one million votes, according to final results from Thursday’s referendum.
“The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected,” Cameron said, as the shockwave of their decision sent sterling, global stocks and oil prices plummeting.
The Conservative prime minister promised to try to “steady the ship” over the next few months but said a new leader should be installed by early October.
“I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination,” he said outside his official Downing Street residence in London.
The bookmakers’ favourite to replace him is former London mayor Boris Johnson, a rival from within his ruling Conservative Party who was the “Leave” camp figurehead.
– ‘Independence day’ –
Britain will be the first country to leave in the history of the EU, the culmination of decades of suspicion over European aims of creating an ever-closer political union.
The vote also threatens the unity of the United Kingdom, with Scotland unwilling to follow the rest of the country out of the EU.
“Let June 23 go down in our history as our independence day,” said top anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, who had promised Britons the chance to retake power from Brussels and rein in high immigration.
“We’ve done it! We’ve won!” anti-EU campaigners shouted at the festivities in an office block in Westminster, popping open champagne bottles as “Leave” victories flowed in. “Out! Out! Out!”, they chanted as dawn broke.
– ‘Madhouse’ –
The result saw sterling collapse 10 percent to touch a 31-year low of $1.3229. European stock markets dropped around eight percent at the opening bell, while British banking shares collapsed by some 30 percent.
The Bank of England promised to take “all necessary steps” to secure market stability.
“It’s a madhouse in here. It has been a bloodbath. Carnage,” said David Papier, head of sales trading at foreign exchange house ETX Capital in London.