UK votes to leave the European Union

LONDON, United Kingdom (11th UPDATE) – It's "out."

The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU) in a historic referendum, a decision that has dealt a thunderous blow to the regional bloc and sent world markets plummeting Friday, June 24.

Lured by the promise of regaining control of their own destiny and reining in high levels of immigration, Britons voted 52% to 48% on Thursday, June 23, to break away from a 28-nation alliance that has offered unfettered trade access and the free movement of labor across its borders.

The Leave side got 17.4 million votes, while the Remain camp got 16.1 million votes. A record 46.5 million people registered to vote in the once-in-a-generation referendum. Turnout was at 72.2%.

The vote forced Prime Minister David Cameron to resign 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.

"I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination," Cameron said in a speech outside Downing Street as sterling, global stocks and oil prices plummeted.

Britain will be the first country ever to leave the EU after decades of suspicion over aims of ever-closer political union, scoring a shock victory for the anti-establishment rhetoric of the Brexit campaign.

Their decision will undoubtedly re-awaken fears of a domino-effect ripple of exit votes in EU-skeptic members that could imperil the integrity of the bloc, already struggling with twin economic and refugee crises.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the result a "blow" to Europe while French President Francois Hollande said it was a "grave test".

But European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker flatly denied it was the beginning of the end for the EU, already troubled by growing euroscepticism, economic and migration crises.

Cameron, who led the campaign for Britain to stay, said it should be his successor who begins complex negotiations on pulling Britain out of the EU, a process which could last a decade.

RESIGNATION. British Prime Minister David Cameron announces his resignation after losing the vote in the EU Referendum outside N10 Downing Street in London, Britain on June 24, 2016. Photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

RESIGNATION. British Prime Minister David Cameron announces his resignation after losing the vote in the EU Referendum outside N10 Downing Street in London, Britain on June 24, 2016.

Photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Top Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London and a favourite to succeed Cameron, also said there was "no need for haste".

But European chiefs said the country, which first joined the then European Economic Community in 1973, should start the process "as soon as possible".

"We now expect the United Kingdom government to give effect to this decision of the British people as soon as possible, however painful that process may be," said a joint statement by the European Commission, Parliament and Council leaders.

Leaders of the EU, a bloc born out of a determination to forge lasting peace after two world wars, will open a two-day summit on Tuesday to grapple with Britain's decision.

'Independence day'

"We've done it! We've won!" anti-EU campaigners shouted at a party in Westminster, popping open champagne bottles as "Leave" victories flowed in. "Out! Out! Out!", they chanted as dawn broke.

In the City of London financial district, many people were much more downbeat.

Francesca Crimp, who works for a bank, cried as she said she was "scared" by the result.

"I just feel so devastated that this multicultural city that I live in is going to change drastically, and the world as I know it is just not the same today," she told Agence France-Presse.

The result – after a deeply polarizing and often toxic campaign – threatens the very unity of the United Kingdom, with Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to remain in the EU.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a second independence vote was now looming after a similar referendum in 2014 voted to stay part of the UK.

"The option of a second referendum must be on the table and it is on the table," she said.

Top anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said June 23 should "go down in our history as our independence day".

Immigration and an erosion of financial security have become rallying cries for populists across Europe, just as they have for Donald Trump's campaign in the US presidential election.

Trump hailed the vote as he arrived in Scotland to unveil a refurbishment of his Trump Turnberry golf course.

"I think it's a great thing. I think it's a fantastic thing," he told reporters. "People want to take their country back, they want independence."

'Madhouse'

DOWN. A trader watches his monitor at the Saxo bank in Paris on June 24, 2016, after the result of Britain's in-out referendum on EU membership, as Britain voted to leave the European Union. Thomas Samson/AFP

DOWN. A trader watches his monitor at the Saxo bank in Paris on June 24, 2016, after the result of Britain's in-out referendum on EU membership, as Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Thomas Samson/AFP

However, the result drove sterling down 10% to a 31-year low of $1.3229. European stock markets dropped around 8% at the opening bell. British banking shares lost a quarter of their value in morning trade.

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.

Voters appeared to have to shrugged off warnings that a Brexit would create a budget hole requiring spending cuts and tax increases once they lose unfettered trade access to the EU.

Their decision will reawaken fears of a domino-effect ripple of exit votes in eurosceptic member states that could imperil the integrity of the bloc.

Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen immediately called for referendums on EU membership in their own countries.

The referendum means one of the world's top economies must now go it alone, brokering new deals with all the countries it now trades with under the EU's umbrella.

Thousands of jobs in the City could be transferred to Frankfurt or Paris, top companies have warned. Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com