Britain on Friday entered unchartered territory after it voted to leave the European Union, forcing the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, who led the “remain’ campaign.
Political leaders, observers and journalists ran out of superlatives to describe the shock “leave vote” that overturned the 1975 referendum in favour of joining the EU, the pound plunging to a 31-year low and the possibility of another vote on Scotland’s independence.
The Bank of England rushed in to soothe market fears amid increasing volatility and the worst fall in the pound’s value since 1985.
As the ruling Conservative Party began work on selecting its new leader by its October conference, senior Labour leaders also turned on party leader Jeremy Corbyn for his alleged failure to make a forceful case to remain in the EU.
Boris Johnson, one of the leading lights of the “Leave” camp, was widely tipped to be the next Conservative leader and the next prime minister after Cameron said he would stay on until October to ensure stability and enable the selection of the next party boss.
The British public voted convincingly – 52% to 48% for “remain” campaign -- to sever its links with the EU after years of growing ennui over the post-Second World War political-economic union taking over ever more national powers and large scale EU immigration since the early 2000s.
Given the close result, Britain appeared divided, with crestfallen senior Labour leaders Keith Vaz and Chuka Umunna describing the outcome as “seismic” and “terrible day”. Many were still trying to make sense of the result and its implications.
Wife Samantha by his side, Cameron addressed the nation outside 10, Downing Street: “I will do everything I can as Prime Minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months, but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination”.
“This is not a decision I have taken lightly, but I do believe it is in the national interest to have a period of stability and then the new leadership required. There is no need for a precise timetable today, but in my view we should aim to have a new prime minister in place by the start of the Conservative Party conference in October.”
He said he had informed Queen Elizabeth of his decision. It would be for the new prime minister to carry out negotiations with the EU and invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that would give the UK two years to negotiate its withdrawal, he said.
“The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected. The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered,” Cameron said.