, 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.
- The referendum means the world's fifth-largest economy must now go it alone in the global economy, launching lengthy exit negotiations with the bloc and brokering new deals with all the countries it now trades with under the EU's umbrella
- Two years after Scotland voted in a referendum to remain in the United Kingdom, its political leader First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said a new independence vote is "definitely on the table" after Britain voted against the majority will expressed by Scots
- Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, is now faced with the prospect of customs barriers for trade with EU-member the Republic of Ireland. Irish republicans Sinn Fein called for a vote on Irish unity following the referendum
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.