Britain has voted to leave the European Union, initiating what could be a messy divorce proceeding and causing uncertainty in the world financial markets. The result sets the country on an uncertain path and deals the largest setback to European efforts to forge greater unity since World War II.
Nearly complete results showed a 51.7 percent of the UK voting in favor of leaving, with 48.3 voting remain. The pound sterling, the UK's currency, 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 raises 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 the "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.
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".
With nearly 90 percent of the vote had been counted, the Leave vote's lead was virtually impossible to reverse.
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.
The EU for its part will emerge economically and politically weakened, facing the departure not only of its most free-market proponent but also a member country that wields a UN Security Council veto and runs a powerful army. In one go, the bloc will lose around a sixth of its total economic output.
Opinion polls had see-sawed throughout an acrimonious four-month campaign, but the Remain camp edged ahead last week after a pro-EU member of parliament, Jo Cox, was shot and stabbed to death by a man shouting "Britain first". The attack shocked Britons and raised questions about whether the tone of the debate was fuelling intolerance and hatred.
In the end though, the pro-EU camp was powerless to stop a tide of anti-establishment feeling and disenchantment with a Europe that many Britons see as remote, bureaucratic and mired in permanent crises.
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