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British Voters Opt To Leave EU; Cameron To Resign

uK Prime Minister David Cameron says he will step down after the Brexit vote.
uK Prime Minister David Cameron says he will step down after the Brexit vote.

The United Kingdom has voted convincingly in a landmark referendum to leave the European Union, a bombshell result that prompted British Prime Minister David Cameron to announce his resignation in favor of "fresh leadership" for the country.

"The British people have voted to leave the European Union, and their will must be respected," the Conservative leader said outside his office on 10 Downing Street soon after the nonbinding "leave" result was announced on June 24. "I do not think it would be right for me to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination."

Cameron, who campaigned hard to "remain" in the EU, said he hoped a new prime minister would be in office by October.

Results from Britain's nationwide referendum show that Britons voted to leave the European Union by 52 percent to 48 -- a margin of 1.27 million votes.

It is a potentially devastating blow to the political and economic bloc, which has spent decades beefing up the ranks of its membership to include 28 countries and more than 500 million people but has grappled with financial setbacks, a divisive immigration crisis, and perceptions of aloofness and overreach.

The British pound, the euro, and stock markets around the world fell on the news.

European Council President Donald Tusk said the bloc was "determined to keep our unity at 27" and to prevent any further defections. With Britain, there are currently 28 EU members.

He said EU leaders will hold a summit next week without Britain and would "start a wider reflection of the future of our union."

U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who had campaigned for the "leave" vote and subsequently called for Cameron's resignation, said of the vote that "the dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom!"

WATCH: The leader of the U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage, hailed the result of Britain's referendum, calling it a "victory for decent people" and predicting it would lead to the dissolution of the European Union. (Reuters)

An aide to Cameron told Reuters that the results have sent Britain into "uncharted territory."

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain now needs continuity and stability.

Hammond said the results will also reopen the question for some about whether Scotland should seek independence from the United Kingdom.

Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU, while Wales voted narrowly to leave.

Alex Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland and ex-leader of the Scottish National Party, called on Cameron to resign and said Scotland was likely to push for a fresh vote on independence.

Most cities in northeastern England returned large majorities for the "leave" side, while London voted strongly to remain.

The vote has raised fears that a "Brexit" could spur calls for similar referendums across the EU, where independence movements are on the rise.

WATCH: Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, has said that the European Union's 27 remaining members will remain unified following the British referendum to leave the bloc.

'Major Damage To Both Sides'

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Europe will continue in the wake of Britain's decision but it was "urgent" for Europe to "react and regain the trust of the people."

Ayrault also expressed "sadness for the United Kingdom."

In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier responded to the news on June 24 by saying Britain's vote to leave the EU was "a sad day for Europe and Britain."

A German Foreign Ministry statement quoted Steinmeier as saying that the news from Britain was "really sobering."

Germany says a meeting of foreign ministers from the bloc's six founding states has been scheduled for June 25 to discuss Britain's exit.

Those countries are Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

The White House said early on June 24 that President Barack Obama was informed about the incoming returns, and that he expected to have a chance to speak with Cameron over the course of the next day.

EU lawmaker Manfred Weber of the European People's Party, the largest in the European Parliament, said Britain's decision to leave the EU "causes major damage to both sides."

Weber called for the decision to be quickly implemented.

The referendum was set up as an advisory vote that was legally nonbinding.

There was no mandatory trigger mechanism that would automatically invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal device that formally sets the exit process into motion.

But political analysts say that with such a wide margin of support for the "leave" campaign, and with voter turnout of 72 percent, there is now significant pressure on British politicians to formally begin the two-year process of negotiations for leaving the 28-member bloc.

Pound, World Markets Crash

News of the referendum results also had immediate and far-reaching effects on financial markets.

Britain's pound sterling currency fell to a level of $1.35 against the U.S. dollar -- a 31-year low just one day after it hit a 2016 high of $1.50.

The Bank of England said it was monitoring developments closely, suggesting it would take necessary steps to support the currency.

The London Stock Exchange plunged about 8 percent upon opening on June 24 while Germany's DAX index fell 10 percent in early trading and France's index fell 7 percent.

Key Asian stock market indexes also fell about 8 percent on June 24 on news of the referendum results.

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said he was "extremely concerned about risks" that would be caused "to the world economy and global financial markets."

Futures markets pointed to a fall of 5 percent on U.S. exchanges at the open of trading on June 24.

The Financial Times of London quoted the chief ratings officers for Standard and Poor's as saying on June 24 that Britain's "AAA" credit rating was "untenable under the circumstances."

Standard and Poor's previously said its top-notch rating for Britain was based on the assumption that the referendum would have delivered a vote to remain in the EU.

Rival ratings agencies Fitch and Moody's had downgraded their AAA ratings for Britain before the referendum campaign began.

With reporting by BBC, AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa