David Cameron is to step down by October after the UK voted to leave the European Union, saying that he would attempt to “steady the ship” over the coming weeks and months but that “fresh leadership” was needed.
David Cameron urged the country to vote Remain but was defeated by 52% to 48% despite London, Scotland and Northern Ireland backing staying in.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage hailed it as the UK’s “independence day”.
The pound fell to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985 as the markets reacted to the results.
Flanked by wife Samantha, David Cameron said he had informed the Queen of his decision to remain in place for the short term and to then hand over to a new prime minister by the time of the Conservative conference in October.
It would be for the new prime minister to carry out negotiations with the EU and invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would give the UK two years to negotiate its withdrawal, he said.
“The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected,” said David Cameron. “The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered.”
Bank of England governor Mark Carney said UK banks’ “substantial capital and huge liquidity” allowed them to continue to lend to businesses and households.
The Bank of England is ready to provide an extra £250bn of support, he added.
The referendum turnout was 71.8% – with more than 30 million people voting – the highest turnout at a UK-wide vote since 1992.
Mr Farage – who has campaigned for the past 20 years for Britain to leave the EU – told cheering supporters “this will be a victory for ordinary people, for decent people”.
Pro-Leave Conservatives including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – who are both likely to be among contenders to be the party’s next leader and therefore PM – had signed a letter to Mr Cameron overnight urging him to stay on whatever the result.
Mr Johnson made no comment as he left his London home where a large crowd had gathered.
The EU referendum has revealed an ancient, jagged fault line across the United Kingdom. It is a scar that has sliced through conventional politics and traditional social structures, and it is far from clear whether the kingdom can still call itself united.
The referendum was ostensibly about membership of the European Union. But voters took it to be asking a different question: what kind of country do you want Britain to be?
Yesterday seemed to offer a fork in the road: one path (Remain) promised it would lead to a modern world of opportunity based on interdependence; the other (Leave) was advertised as a route to an independent land that would respect tradition and heritage.
Which path people took depended on the prism through which they saw the world.