UK’s PM David Cameron has announced he will step down by October after Britain voted to leave the EU.
In a statement outside Downing Street, David Cameron said he would attempt to “steady the ship” over the coming weeks and months but that “fresh leadership” was needed.
He had urged Britain 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.
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Flanked by wife Samantha, PM David Cameron said he had informed Queen Elizabeth II 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, David Cameron said.
“The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected,” he said.
“The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered.”
The Brexit referendum turnout was 71.8% – with more than 30 million people voting – the highest turnout at a UK-wide vote since 1992.
Britain is set to be the first country to leave the EU since its formation – but the Leave vote does not immediately mean Britain ceases to be a member of the 28-nation bloc.
That process could take a minimum of two years, with Leave campaigners suggesting during the referendum campaign that it should not be completed until 2020 – the date of the next scheduled general election.
Once Article 50 has been triggered a country cannot rejoin without the consent of all member states.
The UK’s government will also have to negotiate its future trading relationship with the EU and fix trade deals with non-EU countries.
British people are expected to head to polling stations to cast their votes in the UK general election.
The voters will elect the 56th Parliament of the United Kingdom after the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 led to the mandated dissolution of the 55th Parliament on March 30, 2015.
There are also local elections scheduled to take place on the same day across most of England, with the exception of Greater London.
Polls open at 07:00 BST on Thursday, May 7, at around 50,000 polling stations across the UK.
A total of 650 Westminster Members of Parliament (MPs) will be elected for the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament, with about 50 million people registered to vote.
As well as the general election, there are more than 9,000 council seats being contested across 279 English local authorities.
Mayors will also be elected in Bedford, Copeland, Leicester, Mansfield, Middlesbrough and Torbay.
This means that nearly every voter in England – excluding London where there are no local elections – will be given at least two ballot papers when they enter polling stations.
Some votes have already been cast, through postal voting, which accounted for 15% of the total electorate at the 2010 general election, when the overall turnout was 65%.
For the first time, people have been able to register to vote online.
Most polling stations are in schools, community centres and parish halls, but pubs, a launderette and a school bus will also be used.
A handful of seats are expected to be declared by midnight, with the final results expected on Friday afternoon, May 8.
Polls close at 22:00 BST, but officials say anyone in a polling station queue at this time should be able to cast their vote.
Seven parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP, SNP, PC and Green) participated in the election leadership debates.
The Conservative Party and Labour Party have been the two biggest parties since 1922, and have supplied all UK prime ministers since that date. Polls predict that these parties will receive between 65-75% of the votes and win 80-85% of seats between them and that as such the leader of one of these parities will be the prime minister after the election.
The Economist described a “familiar two-and-a-half-party system” (Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats) that “appears to be breaking down” with the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the Greens and the Scottish National Party (SNP).
Analysts say that there will be no overall majority, but that PM David Cameron’s Conservatives will be the largest party with more than 280 seats.