UPDATED 06/24/16 12:20 a.m.

LONDON (CBSNewYork/CBS News/AP) — UK broadcasters early Friday were predicting that Britain has voted to leave the 28-nation European Union in a historic referendum.

With 329 of 382 counting centers reporting results, the “leave” was ahead by over 900,000 votes.

The results of Britain’s vote Thursday will seriously hurt the continental unity forged after World War II.

The UK is the first major country to decide to leave the bloc, which evolved from the ashes of war as the region’s leaders sought to build links and avert future hostility.

The British pound has tumbled to a 31-year low as the results of the vote spooked global markets.

The pound initially soared as polls closed and two opinion surveys put “remain” ahead and two leading supporters of the “leave” campaign said it appeared the pro-EU side had won. But it then suffered its biggest drop in decades.

More than 46 million people were registered to vote in Thursday’s plebiscite, which asked: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

The referendum exposed deep divisions over issues including sovereignty and national identity.

It was a vote that Prime Minister David Cameron never really wanted, CBS News’ Mark Phillips reported. He was forced into calling it by people on the right of his Conservative Party, who have always wanted to get out of Europe.

The referendum promise was supposed to shut them up, but it did not.

“I believe that this Thursday can be our country’s Independence Day,” said former London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has led the Brexit campaign.

The campaign has argued that Europe costs too much and controls too much.

But the camp calling for the UK to remain in the 28-nation EU claims British families will be about $6,000 dollars poorer outside of Europe.

Fear was the greatest component in the campaign – specifically, fear that the EU’s open borders will allow a flood of immigrants to overrun Britain. One poster showing a line of immigrants multiple people deep, and calling for the UK to “take back control of our borders,” was deemed so racist that it was withdrawn.

And as “leave” votes poured in from Britain’s historic vote on European Union membership, post-mortems were already being produced. One expert says the “remain” side had suffered from “a degree of complacency.”

Tim Oliver, a fellow at the London School of Economics’ IDEAS foreign policy think tank said “the campaign failed to connect to ordinary people, seemed too much of an elite and London-based one.”

Oliver says the vote wasn’t just about Europe _ but also about a popular British backlash against the capital and its elites. He says “the EU was one of the things kicked by this, but there were lots of other things such as a general anti-establishment feeling, anti-London feeling.”

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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