In Historic Vote, Britain Goes for Brexit

The unprecedented decision raises an array of questions about what comes next.

Leave.EU supporters wave Union flags and cheer as the results come in at the Leave.EU referendum party at Millbank Tower in central London early in the morning of June 24, 2016.
First results from Britain's knife-edge referendum showed unexpectedly strong support for leaving the European Union on Friday, sending the pound plummeting as investors feared a historic blow against the 28-nation alliance. / AFP / GEOFF CADDICK        (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
Leave.EU supporters wave Union flags and cheer as the results come in at the Leave.EU referendum party at Millbank Tower in central London early in the morning of June 24, 2016. First results from Britain's knife-edge referendum showed unexpectedly strong support for leaving the European Union on Friday, sending the pound plummeting as investors feared a historic blow against the 28-nation alliance. / AFP / GEOFF CADDICK (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
Leave.EU supporters wave Union flags and cheer as the results come in at the Leave.EU referendum party at Millbank Tower in central London early in the morning of June 24, 2016. First results from Britain's knife-edge referendum showed unexpectedly strong support for leaving the European Union on Friday, sending the pound plummeting as investors feared a historic blow against the 28-nation alliance. / AFP / GEOFF CADDICK (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)

British voters made the choice to leave the European Union on Thursday, in a decision that sent markets plunging and left the continent stunned and shaken.

British voters made the choice to leave the European Union on Thursday, in a decision that sent markets plunging and left the continent stunned and shaken.

The BBC called the race for Leave at approximately 4:40 a.m. GMT Friday morning. At 6:15 a.m., results showed Leave with a 52 to 48 percent lead, with just a handful of areas still yet to report their vote counts.

The country will be the first to leave the 28-member European Union, and the unprecedented decision raises a bevy of questions about what comes next. Prime Minister David Cameron, who had called the Brexit referendum but campaigned against leaving, announced Friday morning that he would resign in a matter of months, saying that he was no longer the best leader “to steady the ship.” Many to have raised questions about the fate of the United Kingdom itself, whose constituent nations were divided on the question of whether or not to leave the European Union.

For the EU itself — an institution that has spent the past few years grappling with various crises ranging from a stagnant economy to a migration influx — the vote comes as a blow. The vote will set off a process of negotiations that could take years to complete, and could give a boost to Euroskeptic forces in other member states. Speaking after the results, European Council President Donald Tusk on Friday called for “a wider reflection on the future of our union.”

The British pound fell by more than 10 percent over the course of Thursday evening into Friday morning.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images

 

Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is the Europe editor at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon. Twitter: @APQW

More from Foreign Policy

Keri Russell as Kate Wyler walks by a State Department Seal from a scene in The Diplomat, a new Netflix show about the foreign service.
Keri Russell as Kate Wyler walks by a State Department Seal from a scene in The Diplomat, a new Netflix show about the foreign service.

At Long Last, the Foreign Service Gets the Netflix Treatment

Keri Russell gets Drexel furniture but no Senate confirmation hearing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron speak in the garden of the governor of Guangdong's residence in Guangzhou, China, on April 7.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron speak in the garden of the governor of Guangdong's residence in Guangzhou, China, on April 7.

How Macron Is Blocking EU Strategy on Russia and China

As a strategic consensus emerges in Europe, France is in the way.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin greets U.S. President George W. Bush prior to a meeting of APEC leaders in 2001.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin greets U.S. President George W. Bush prior to a meeting of APEC leaders in 2001.

What the Bush-Obama China Memos Reveal

Newly declassified documents contain important lessons for U.S. China policy.

A girl stands atop a destroyed Russian tank.
A girl stands atop a destroyed Russian tank.

Russia’s Boom Business Goes Bust

Moscow’s arms exports have fallen to levels not seen since the Soviet Union’s collapse.