David Cameron says he will stand down as Prime Minister as the UK votes to leave the European Union, while Scotland’s First Minister says a second independence referendum is “highly likely”.
Mr Cameron, who had campaigned for Remain and was re-elected only 13 months ago, said he accepted the decision of the electorate and believed a new leader should be in place by the time of the Conservative conference in October.
“I will do everything I can as Prime Minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months, but I don’t think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination,” he said.
Mr Cameron said it was up to a new prime minister to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will kick off the two-year process of negotiating a new trade relationship with the EU.
But EU chiefs said the UK should implement Brexit “as soon as possible, however painful that process may be”.
They added: “Any delay would unnecessarily prolong uncertainty. We have rules to deal with this in an orderly way. We stand ready to launch negotiations swiftly with the United Kingdom regarding the terms and conditions of its withdrawal from the European Union.”
Britain will become the first country to leave the EU since its formation, and there are fears among other European leaders that they may also face calls for referendums.
Boris Johnson, a key figure in the Leave campaign and favourite to succeed Mr Cameron, called him “one of the most extraordinary politicians of our age” and said the Brexit vote “does not mean that the United Kingdom will be in any way less united” or “less European”.
But he said “there is simply no need in the 21st century to be part of a federal system of government based in Brussels that is imitated nowhere else on earth”, adding: “Above all, we can find our voice in the world again. A voice that is commensurate with the fifth biggest economy on earth – powerful, liberal, humane – an extraordinary force for good in the world.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “absolutely determined” to keep her country in the EU, and a second independence referendum – following last year’s rejection – was “highly likely”.
The UK voted 52 to 48 per cent in a referendum to pull out of the EU. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in, but many parts of the North and Midlands and Wales opted for Brexit.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said 23 June should be declared a bank holiday and will “go down in our history as our independence day”.
He said leaving the EU had been achieved “without a single bullet being fired” and hoped the vote for Brexit would bring down the entire “failed project”.
More than £100 billion was wiped off the FTSE 100 as the share index fell more than 7 per cent, and the pound crashed 8 per cent against the US dollar to its lowest level since 1985.
Labour has been plunged into bitter recrimination as traditional supporters turned their backs on appeals from the leadership and most of the party’s MPs to vote for Britain to stay in the EU.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said many voters had been expressing their dscontent with austerity cuts.
Labour MP John Mann, who backed Leave, said the party was paying the price for ignoring the concerns of working-class people on issues such immigration.
“Labour has gone wrong by not being in touch with its voters, I’ve been saying this for the last 10 years in relation to immigration and free movement of labour,” he told BBC News.