The shock result had seemed less likely in the last week as a range of polls showed the Leave campaign leading or at worst the two campaigns neck in neck.
European Union president Donald Tusk said in the wake of the vote that the EU was determined to stay unified after Britain voted to leave and warned against “hysterical” reactions.
“Today on behalf of the 27 leaders [of the EU], I can say that we are determined to keep our unity as 27,” Tusk said in Brussels, adding that “it is a historic moment but for sure not a moment for hysterical reactions.”
Tusk said that EU leaders would meet without Britain at summit next week to assess its future.
David Cameron, who had promised a vote on Britain’s membership of the EU prior to the Conservative Party sweeping back into Downing Street with a clear majority. said: “I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers the country to its next destination,” he said outside 10 Downing Street.”
“I was absolutely clear about my belief that Britain is stronger, safer and better off inside the European Union. And I made clear the referendum was about this and this alone, not the future of any single politician, including myself,” said Cameron, “But 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.”
Lithuania’s Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said some of the blame for the vote to exit by the British electorate should be placed at the door of EU institutions who had not listened to member states concerns enough.
“Both the European Commission and the European Council should be much more open to national-level parliaments and there should closer cooperation with EU governments,” the Lithuanina prime minister said on Friday.
“Of course, that work is being done but more ideas should proposed, listened to and heard and even transferred into the EU law from below and not by putting that law downwards,” he said.
With all votes counted, 51.9% voted to end Britain’s 43-year membership of the EU, 48.1% to stay in.
The British pound has dived to a 30-year low with the FTSE 100 plunging 7.1%.