The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, results from Thursday’s referendum showed, a stunning repudiation of the nation’s elites that deals the biggest blow to the European project of greater unity since World War Two.
Global financial markets plunged as complete results showed a near 52-48 percent split for leaving, on fears that the decision will hit investment in the world’s 5th largest economy, threaten London’s role as a global financial capital and foment uncertainty in the world’s biggest trading bloc.
The pound suffered its biggest one-day fall in history, falling more than 10 percent against the dollar to hit levels last seen in 1985, while the euro slumped more than 3 percent.
“It’s a momentous day. It’s an extraordinary event and the it will change the course of British history,” said British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond who had campaigned for a “Remain” vote.
The leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, hailed it as “independence day”.
Quitting the EU could cost Britain access to the EU’s trade barrier-free single market and mean it must seek new trade accords with countries around the world. President Barack Obama says it would be at the “back of a queue” for a U.S. pact.
The EU for its part will be economically and politically weakened, facing the departure not only of its most free-market proponent but also a member with a U.N. Security Council veto and powerful army. In one go, the bloc will lose around a sixth of its economic output.
The vote will initiate at least two years of divorce proceedings with the EU, the first exit by any member state. Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to notify his European counterparts within days.
Cameron had called the referendum in 2013 in a bid to head off pressure from local eurosceptics, including within his own party, and had led the campaign for a “Remain” vote.
His political future is now in doubt, with his Conservative Party rival Boris Johnson, the former London mayor who became the most recognizable face of the “leave” camp, now widely tipped to seek his job.
But Foreign Secretary Hammond said Cameron would stay on. “What the country needs now is a sense of continuity and stability,” he said.
Futures trading predicted massive opening losses on share markets across Europe. Britain’s FTSE futures and Germany’s Dax futures fell about 9 percent. The euro zone’s Euro Stoxx 50 futures sank more than 11 percent. Investors poured into safe-haven assets including gold, and the yen surged.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” an aide working in Cameron’s office told reporters.
Yet there was euphoria among Britain’s eurosceptic forces, claiming a victory over the political establishment, big business and foreign leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama who had urged Britain to stay in.
“Dare to dream that the dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party. “This will be a victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people … Let June 23 go down in our history as our independence day.”
Asked if Cameron should resign, Farage said: “Immediately.”
Read more: Reuters