LONDON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Britain voted to leave the European Union after a bitterly divisive referendum campaign, toppling the prime minister Friday, sending global markets plunging and shattering the stability of a project in continental unity designed half a century ago to prevent World War III.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who had led the campaign to keep Britain in the EU, said he would resign by October and left it to his successor to decide when to invoke Article 50, which triggers a departure from the EU.READ MORE: Gov. Cuomo Under Fire Over Remarks About Sexual Harassment: 'Harassment Is Not Making Someone Feel Uncomfortable'
Cameron said Britain needs fresh leadership.
EXTRA: What Happens After ‘Brexit?’
“The British people have made a choice,” he said. “That not only needs to be respected, but those on the losing side of the argument, myself included, should help to make it work.”
He said although Britain’s departure from the EU is not what he would have chosen, negotiations should begin to leave the 28-member bloc and that he’s not the “captain” to steer the country through those negotiations.
“I will do everything I can as prime minister to steady the ships over the coming weeks and months, but I do not think it will be right for me to try to be the captain to steer our country to its next destination,” he said.
The “Brexit” referendum came down to the wire. In the end, U.K. voters split 52 to 48 to leave the 28-nation bloc.
Initial polls suggested a close race between both sides, but voters in Northern England and Wales helped tip the scale in favor of independence
“The sun has risen on an independent United Kingdom,” U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said.
Cameron called for the referendum under pressure from members of his party who claim Europe costs and controls too much. Anger of mass immigration fueled the “Leave” campaign because of the EU’s open borders.
“It does demonstrate the level of division and anger, actually, in the country,” said Green MP Caroline Lucas. “It really is a wakeup call for Westminster.”
Britain’s decision to leave the EU is already being felt in the U.K. and around the world.
U.S. stocks plunged as the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 611 points Friday.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 76 points. The Nasdaq composite sank 202 points.
International stock markets also plunged, oil prices tumbled and the pound fell to a 31-year low Friday and investors rushed to dump European shares as soon as markets opened.
Earlier Friday, Japan’s Nikkei dropped 8 percent, its biggest fall since 2008.
World Leaders React
President Barack Obama on Friday said the United States respects the decision of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and that the special relationship between Washington and London “is enduring.”
Obama had strongly urged that the UK remain in the EU, and the decision is a significant blow to his efforts to counter the isolationist viewpoints taking hold in many parts of the world.
“The United Kingdom and the European Union will remain indispensable partners of the United States even as they begin negotiating their ongoing relationship to ensure continued stability, security, and prosperity for Europe, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the world,” he said.READ MORE: NYPD Surprises 4-Year-Old Times Square Shooting Victim With New Toys, Visit From Minnie Mouse
Back in April, Obama said a “Brexit” would put any future U.S. trade deals with the U.K. in jeopardy, CBS News’ Tina Kraus reported.
“Our focus is negotiating with a big bloc to get a trade agreement done and the U.K. is going to be at the back at the queue,” he said then.
But on Friday, the president took a softer tone about the future of the UK, offering reassurance to both the UK and the EU.
“The United Kingdom’s membership in NATO remains a vital cornerstone of U.S. foreign, security, and economic policy,” Obama said. “So too is our relationship with the European Union, which has done so much to promote stability, stimulate economic growth, and foster the spread of democratic values and ideals across the continent and beyond.”
French President Francois Hollande said he profoundly regrets the British vote to leave the EU, but that the union must make changes in order to move forward.
In a brief televised statement, Hollande said the vote will put Europe to the test, and he called for bolstering security and industrial policies.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the EU is strong enough to find the “right answers” to Britain’s vote to leave the bloc.
Merkel said Friday that Germany has a “special interest” and a “special responsibility” in European unity succeeding. She said she has invited EU President Donald Tusk, Hollande and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi to a meeting in Berlin on Monday ahead of a previously scheduled EU summit.
Merkel told reporters in Berlin that Europe shouldn’t draw “quick and simple conclusions” from the referendum that would only create further divisions.
Spain’s acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says his country has received Britain’s decision to leave the EU with sadness, adding that “it ought to make all member nations rethink.”
Rajoy said he wished to transmit a message of “serenity and tranquility” to Spaniards and to businesses, markets and institutions, saying that now was not the moment to promote uncertainty despite the upset decision.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel says he wants a special “conclave” of EU leaders as soon as next month to reassess options, considering discontent is spreading well beyond Britain.
Following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, Michel says, “we need to keep a cool head and need to see what new way of cooperation would be possible.
Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon says a new Scottish referendum on independence is “highly likely” and said Friday legislation will be prepared for a possible new vote. Independence was defeated two years ago in a Scottish referendum.
Sturgeon said she would do everything possible to keep Scotland inside the EU. She said this means another referendum “has to be on the table.”
EU Leaders: Britain Will Stay Member For Now
European Union leaders said that Britain will remain a member of the bloc until its exit negotiations are concluded, which probably means at least two years longer.
The leaders of the EU’s institutions said Friday that “until this process of negotiations is over, the United Kingdom remains a member of the European Union, with all the rights and obligations that derive from this.”
They said in a statement that under the bloc’s treaties “EU law continues to apply to the full to and in the United Kingdom until it is no longer a member.”
The statement was signed by European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
Britain has been a part of the 28-nation bloc since joining 43 years ago. It would be the first major country to leave the EU, which was born from the ashes of World War II as European leaders sought to build links and avert future hostility.MORE NEWS: Bronx Man Takes It Upon Himself To Clean Up NYC Park, But City Says Not So Fast
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