Britain has voted to leave the European Union, results from Thursday’s landmark referendum showed, an outcome that sets the country on an uncertain path and deals the largest setback to European efforts to forge greater unity since World War Two.
World financial markets dived as nearly complete results showed a 51.7/48.3 percent split for leaving. Sterling suffered its biggest one-day fall of more than 9 percent against the dollar, hitting its lowest level in three decades on market fears the decision will hit investment in the world’s 5th largest economy.
The vote will initiate at least two years of messy divorce proceedings with the EU, raise questions over London’s role as a global financial capital and put huge pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, though he pledged during the campaign to stay on whatever the result.
The euro slumped around 3.5 percent against the dollar on concerns a ‘Brexit’ vote will do wider economic and political damage to what will become a 27-member union. Investors poured into safe haven assets including gold, and the yen surged.
There was no immediate comment from the Bank of England. In an early mark of international concern, Japan’s top currency diplomat Masatsugu Asakawa said he would consult with Finance Minister Taro Aso on how to respond to the market moves, describing the foreign exchange moves as very rough.
Yet there was euphoria among Britain’s eurosceptic forces, claiming a victory they styled as a protest against British political leaders, big business and foreign leaders including Barack Obama who had urged Britain to stay in the bloc.
“Dare to dream that the dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party.
“If the predictions are right, 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.”
He called the EU a “doomed project”.
By 5.20 am (0420 GMT), nearly 90 percent of the vote had been counted, making Leave’s lead virtually impossible to reverse.
Asked if Cameron, who called the referendum in 2013 and campaigned to stay in the bloc, should resign if Britain voted for Brexit, Farage said: “Immediately.”
The United Kingdom now faces a threat to its survival, as Scotland voted 62 percent in favor of staying in the EU and is likely to press for a new referendum on whether to become independent after its 2014 vote to stay in the UK.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Thursday’s vote “makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union.”
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.