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British Voters Choose to Exit EU, PM Cameron to Step Down

  • Luis Ramirez

Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, speaks to the media on College Green in London, June 24, 2016.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, speaks to the media on College Green in London, June 24, 2016.

Britain has made a historic decision to leave the European Union in a referendum that stoked passions on issues of immigration and sovereignty, and prompted the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron.

“The British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path and as such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction,” Cameron told reporters outside 10 Downing Street Friday.

Cameron said that transition should happen in October.

WATCH: Cameron statement after Brexit vote

Analysts say voters’ stunning decision to quit the EU meant Cameron lost his mandate. The man who led the 'Leave' campaign, former London Mayor Boris Johnson – also of Cameron’s Conservative Party – is widely expected to replace Cameron as prime minister.

With all counties reporting results Friday morning, the "Leave" cause won 51.9 percent of the vote. The news prompted a negative reaction in Asian markets and the British pound tumbled to a three-decade low.

Turnout was high, at 72 percent – the highest in a national poll in more than two decades – despite torrential rainstorms on referendum day, reflecting the strong feelings that the debate evoked in a nation whose immigration rate has doubled in the past 16 years.

WATCH: Leave campaign leader Nigel Farage reacts to vote

The vote appeared to be driven by anti-establishment sentiments and the feeling the EU governing structure has taken too much control away from the common British citizen.

“Let June 23 go down in our history as our independence day,” anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage told supporters in Westminster early Friday. Farage heads Britain’s UK Independence Party, which favors implementing tough immigration restrictions. He said the election predictions would be “a victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people.”

WATCH: EU Council President David Tusk reacts to vote

New chapter of uncertainty

The decision to quit the EU opens a new chapter of uncertainty for Britain, which must now forge new trade relationships with continental Europe and begin the process of disentangling from the 28-member bloc, reversing a process that began more than four decades ago when Britain joined what was then the European Economic Community.

Revelers celebrated outside 10 Downing Street early Friday as passing cars honked in support of the decision.

Analysts say that disengagement may take two or more years to complete.

Supporters of the Stronger In Campaign react as results of the EU referendum are announced at the Royal Festival Hall, in London, Britain, June 24, 2016.

Supporters of the Stronger In Campaign react as results of the EU referendum are announced at the Royal Festival Hall, in London, Britain, June 24, 2016.

Voters appeared to have defied calls by government and business, which forecast dire economic consequences for Britain. The British treasury predicted that leaving the EU would cost the average family nearly $6,000 a year.

On Friday, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said the bank is prepared for the shock, and said it is making available nearly $345 billion in financial support.

Leave supporters celebrate the referendum victory. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

Leave supporters celebrate the referendum victory. (L. Ramirez/VOA)

Business leaders' warning

Business leaders warned that new immigration restrictions that could result from a Brexit would cause them to transfer thousands of British jobs to countries still in the EU.

In the end, British voters appeared to choose the risk of independence over what many "Leave" supporters view as overreach by an undemocratic EU governing apparatus that is only getting bigger and more intrusive.

“The EU has just gone into every nook and cranny. It started off as a trade agreement. It moved towards a community. It now is a union and it wants its own currency and now wants its own defense forces. Well, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a country,” Lord David Owen, a former foreign secretary, told VOA.

Supporters of the Stronger In Campaign react as results of the EU referendum are announced at the Royal Festival Hall, in London, Britain, June 24, 2016.

Supporters of the Stronger In Campaign react as results of the EU referendum are announced at the Royal Festival Hall, in London, Britain, June 24, 2016.

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