Leaderless U.K. stares down uncertain future outside EU

David Cameron stepping down after U.K. votes to leave EU

Last Updated Jun 24, 2016 6:07 AM EDT

LONDON -- Britain has spoken, and its people want out of the European Union. Within several years, it will be a reality.

It would be hard to overstate the shock and the consequences of the vote -- and not just in Britain, and not just in Europe.

The British currency, the pound, fell like a rock Friday, witnessing its biggest one day fall ever, before rebounding slightly. Stock markets plunged, but also managed to recover a little. And Britain's prime minister -- a beaten man -- announced his resignation.

Why "Brexit" Matters

"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," said Prime Minister David Cameron, announcing that he would resign his role within three months.

One by one, as the voting districts reported overnight, the shocks started to come. People inside Manchester Town Hall cheered as their votes tallied up to a result in favour of the "Leave" camp. The scenes would be repeated across the country.

The opinion polls had suggested a close race, and even a narrow victory for the campaign to "Remain" in the EU. They were wrong.

The City of London, Britain's booming financial district, and financial markets across the world, had bet on a vote to remain in the union. They were wrong.

What happens if Britain leaves the European Union?

Only voters in London and Scotland favored staying in, elsewhere, people wanted out.

And David Cameron, thoroughly defeated, felt he simply had only one option -- to go.

"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 our country to its next destination."

Those who argued to leave said the predictions of gloom were scare mongering. We'll see.

The most recognizable face of the Leave campaign, former London Mayor (and possible next prime minister) Boris Johnson, was jeered as he left his house this morning.

Others could barely contain their glee, including the leader of the UK Independence Party Nigel Farage.

"June the 23rd needs to become a national bank holiday," he said on Friday, "and we should call it Independence Day."

Both sides used fear in this campaign; fear of economic decline by those who argued to stay in, and fear of being overwhelmed by immigration from the rest of Europe by those wanting out. The latter proving the more powerful.

The Bank of England has stepped in in an unprecedented way, saying effectively: Take a deep breath. The economy can handle the shock. We'll see.