Britain and Brussels were waking up early Friday to the likelihood of a Brexit, as UK voters appeared to have voted to leave the 28-member bloc, in a move which threw the future of both into a period of unpredcedented uncertainty.
With roughly two-thirds of the 382 local authority results declared, all three main British broadcaster – the BBC, ITV and Sky – called the result for the Leave campaign.
That throw the immediate futures of British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne into doubt, and caused panic on the foreign exchanges and oil futures market, causing the pound to drop and oil prices to fall.
The three most senior EU figures – Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Council President Donald Tusk and Parliament President Martin Schulz – were due to meet in Brussels for talks at 10.30am, along with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in what will now be crisis talks.
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, called it “a victory for real people. A victory for ordinary people. A victory for decent people.”
As of 6am, the tallies stood at 52% for Leave, and 48% for Remain.
In vote terms, Leave had 12,083,633 votes whilst Remain had 11,288,706 votes.
If those results hold, Britain now faces a two-year process under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to negotiate an exit from the bloc – which it joined in 1973 and reconfirmed membership of in 1975 via a first referendum.
It does that against the background of a likely new prime minister and chancellor, as both Cameron and Osborne have staked their careers and credibility on a Remain vote.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, will also be under pressure, as large parts of the Labour vote in northern England and Wales appear to have deserted to the Leave side.
And in Scotland, which voted to Remain, there is the possibility of a second independence referendum.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was initially circumspect, tweeting only that it was “a clean sweep for Remain in Scotland. Well done everyone.”
However, within an hour Sturgeon declared: “Scotland sees its future as part of the EU.”
Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness called for a referendum on Irish unification, after Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU – as is the Republic of Ireland.
In Brussels, officials face a two-pronged dilemma – tortuous negotiations with the UK over its terms of exit, and the likelihood of ‘contagion’ to other member states, notably France, with a strong anti-EU showing.
Farage later came under attack on social media for declaring his side had won “without firing a single bullet.”
The pro-Remain Labour MP Jo Cox was shot dead last week in her northern constituency. A man has been charged with various counts in relation to the crime.