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Brexit: U.K. votes to leave the European Union, Cameron to step down as PM

WATCH ABOVE: Prime Minister David Cameron says he will step aside after the U.K. votes to leave the European Union.

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Britain voted to leave the European Union after a bitterly divisive referendum campaign, toppling the government Friday, sending global markets plunging and shattering the stability of a project in continental unity designed half a century ago to prevent World War III.

The decision launches a yearslong process to renegotiate trade, business and political links between the United Kingdom and what will become a 27-nation bloc, an unprecedented divorce that could take decades to complete.

“The dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party. “Let June 23 go down in our history as our independence day!”

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Prime Minister David Cameron, who had led the campaign to keep Britain in the EU, said he would resign by October and left it to his successor to decide when to invoke Article 50, which triggers a departure from European Union.

“I will do everything I can as prime minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months,” he said, “but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers the country to its next destination.”

READ MORE: ‘Out is out’: But what does leaving European Union really mean for Britain?

A majority of voters in England and Wales voted to leave the EU while most voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.

WATCH: Scotland separation from UK ‘on the table’ after ‘Brexit’ vote

Click to play video 'Scotland separation from UK ‘on the table’ after ‘Brexit’ vote' Scotland separation from UK ‘on the table’ after ‘Brexit’ vote
Scotland separation from UK ‘on the table’ after ‘Brexit’ vote – Jun 24, 2016

The national result, which has caused the British pound to plummet to its lowest levels since 1985, it expected to launch years of negotiations over Britain’s trade, business and political links with the EU. Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney sought to reassure the markets.

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WATCH: Northern Ireland considers ‘border poll’ for Republic of Ireland unification after referendum

Click to play video '‘Brexit’: Northern Ireland considers ‘border poll’ for Republic of Ireland unification after referendum' ‘Brexit’: Northern Ireland considers ‘border poll’ for Republic of Ireland unification after referendum
‘Brexit’: Northern Ireland considers ‘border poll’ for Republic of Ireland unification after referendum – Jun 24, 2016

The plunge began shortly after the results in Newcastle and Sunderland contributed to a six per cent drop in the value of the British pound early Friday morning, even though though only seven out of 382 counting areas had reported their results (as of 7:55 p.m. ET).

“We are well prepared for this,” Carney said. “The Treasury and the Bank of England have engaged in extensive contingency planning. … We have taken all the necessary steps to prepare for today’s events,” Carney said.

The U.K. is the first major country to decide to leave the bloc, which evolved from the ashes of the war as the region’s leaders sought to build links and avert future hostility.

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Carney, a former governor of the Bank of Canada, says the Bank of England can provide liquidity in foreign currency if needed.

Financial authorities around the world have warned that a British exit will reverberate through a delicate global economy.

Carney says Bank of England has contingency plans for EU vote

The result saw British stocks plunge as the market opened as investors scrambled to react to the news that Britain voted to exit the EU.

The main stock index, the FTSE 100, nosedived 8.7 per cent to 5,790 points shortly after the open while the British pound plunged to a 31-year low.

WATCH: Bank of England governor expects some economic volatility following Brexit vote
Click to play video 'Bank of England governor expects some economic volatility following Brexit vote' Bank of England governor expects some economic volatility following Brexit vote
Bank of England governor expects some economic volatility following Brexit vote – Jun 24, 2016

Leaders react to Brexit vote

Top European Union officials are hunkering down in Brussels trying to work out how to navigate uncharted waters after the shocking decision by British voters to leave the bloc.

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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is hosting talks Friday with the leaders of the European Council and Parliament, along with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

The four will try to agree a European position on the vote, which could see a member country leave the bloc for the first time ever, ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels starting on Tuesday.

Parliamentary leaders were meeting separately, and European commissioners – the EU’s executive body – could hold separate talks later.

European People’s Party chairman Manfred Weber, the head of the biggest political bloc in the European Parliament, says Friday that the vote “causes major damage to both sides, but in first line to the U.K.”

Weber added that “this was a British vote, not a European vote. People in the other states don’t want to leave Europe.”

READ MORE: First Brexit, then Nexit? Netherlands’ Geert Wilders calls for referendum

As dawn broke over London, those who wanted Britain to stay in the European Union woke up to grim news.

Veteran Labour lawmaker Keith Vaz says “this is a crushing, crushing decision. This is a terrible day for Europe.”

Green lawmaker Caroline Lucas said she was devastated by the news, blaming “alienation, anger and frustration” for the results of Thursday’s vote.

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“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, a prominent “remain” campaigner, said “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted magic more” in a Twitter message.

Britain’s ‘Independence Day’

With a significant enough lead in votes to leave the European Union, hours before the final result was in, U.K. Independence Party leader and top Brexit proponent Nigel Farage told a crowd of cheering supporters to “Let June 23rd go down in history as our Independence Day.”

“If the predictions now are right,” Farage said, “this will be a victory for real people, for ordinary people, a victory for decent people!”

WATCH: Nigel Farage compares referendum day to ‘Independence Day’
Click to play video 'Nigel Farage: `Let June 23rd go down in our history as our independence day`' Nigel Farage: `Let June 23rd go down in our history as our independence day`
Nigel Farage: `Let June 23rd go down in our history as our independence day` – Jun 23, 2016

Analysts say anti-EU sentiment ran unexpectedly strong in northern English cities hits hard hit by industrial decline and job losses, with broad swathes of England and Wales recording leave majorities.

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READ MORE: Why voters’ ‘flinch factor’ will doom Brexit

The vote constituted a rebellion against the political, economic and social Establishment. All manner of groups — CEOs, scientists, soldiers — had written open letters warning of the consequences of an exit. Farage called the result “a victory for ordinary people against the big banks, big business and big politics.”

Donald Trump praised the decision during a visit to one of his golf courses in Scotland, saying Britons “took back their country. It’s a great thing.” He likened the vote to the U.S. sentiment that has propelled him to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, saying people in the United States and the United Kingdom are angry about similar things.

“People are angry all over the world,” he said.

READ MORE: British pound plummets as results of Brexit referendum revealed

 

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Replay of Global News’ live blog of the historic referendum in the U.K. (Story continues below)

After winning a majority in Parliament in the last election, Cameron negotiated a package of reforms that he said would protect Britain’s sovereignty and prevent EU migrants from moving to the U.K. to claim generous public benefits.

Critics charged that those reforms were hollow, leaving Britain at the mercy of bureaucrats in Brussels and doing nothing to stem the tide of European immigrants who have come to the U.K. since the EU expanded eastward in 2004. The “leave” campaign accuses the immigrants of taxing Britain’s housing market, public services and employment rolls.

Those concerns were magnified by the refugee crisis of the past year that saw more than 1 million people from the Middle East and Africa flood into the EU as the continent’s leaders struggled to come up with a unified response.

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Cameron’s efforts to find a slogan to counter the “leave” campaign’s emotive “take back control” settled on “Brits don’t quit.” But the appeal to a Churchillian bulldog spirit and stoicism proved too little, too late.

WATCH: Celebrations in Sunderland after 82,394 votes to leave the European Union.

Click to play video 'Sunderland votes to leave the European Union in the 2016 EU referendum' Sunderland votes to leave the European Union in the 2016 EU referendum
Sunderland votes to leave the European Union in the 2016 EU referendum – Jun 23, 2016
WATCH: Results roll in from across the United Kingdom
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French President Francois Hollande said he profoundly regrets the British vote to leave the European Union, but that the union must make changes in order to move forward. In a brief televised statement, Hollande said the vote will put Europe to the test, and he called for bolstering security and industrial policies.

He also called for reinforcement of the zone of countries that use the euro.

He said, “To move forward, Europe cannot act as before.”

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