PM announces resignation following victory for leave supporters after divisive referendum campaign
David Cameron has resigned, bringing an abrupt end to his six-year
premiership, after the British public took the momentous decision to
reject his entreaties and turn their back on the European Union.
Just a year after he clinched a surprise majority in the general
election, a visibly emotional Cameron, standing outside Number 10 on
Friday morning alongside his wife, Samantha, said: “The will of the
British people is an instruction that must be delivered.”
The prime minister campaigned hard in the divisive referendum on
Britain’s relationship with the EU, appearing at hundreds of public
events up and down the country to argue that Brexit would be an act of
But a frustrated electorate used the poll to reject the status quo,
and, as the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, described it, “stick two fingers
up” at Britain’s politicians.
“I was absolutely clear about my belief that Britain is stronger,
safer and better off inside the EU. I made clear the referendum was
about this, and this alone, not the future of any single politician,
“But the British people made a different decision to take a different
path. As such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it
in this direction,” Cameron said.
The prime minister’s team were left shocked and distraught by the
narrow win for leave, with 52% of the vote, after polls had suggested a
move towards a comfortable margin for remain in the final few days of
In the statement announcing his intention to step down, Cameron
highlighted the key achievements of his premiership, including
rebuilding the economy after the financial crisis; and legislating to
allow gay marriage.
The process of choosing his successor will now begin, with Tory MPs
selecting a two-person shortlist, which will then be presented to the
party’s members in the country to make a final decision.
Cameron called the referendum as a calculated gamble, aimed at silencing the Eurosceptics in his own party for a generation.
Yet he had underestimated the backing Vote Leave would receive on his
own backbenches; and reckoned without the charismatic and popular
former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, becoming its figurehead.
Johnson, whose support among the Tory membership shot up after he
declared himself for out, is now widely seen as the most likely
successor to the prime minister – though he was received with a chorus
of boos from members of the public when he left his home in pro-remain
London on Friday morning.
Cameron said it would be best for his successor to negotiate the
terms of Britain’s exit – and to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon
treaty, which begins the formal process of withdrawal, adding that he
had already discussed his intentions with the Queen.
The prime minister promised to stay on until the autumn, to “steady
the ship”; but suggested a new leader should be in place by the start of
the Conservative party’s conference in October.
Other leading Brexiteers may fancy their chances against Johnson,
including Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab.
Michael Gove, the justice secretary, has always strongly denied he
wants the top job but has consistently polled well in surveys of
grassroots Conservatives in recent months.
Party modernisers are likely to rally round an alternative candidate –
perhaps Theresa May, Stephen Crabb or Nicky Morgan – in an effort to
stop Johnson and other leave campaigners, who tend to be on the right of
George Osborne’s chances of succeeding the prime minister are
effectively over after he fought so forcefully alongside Cameron to
remain in the EU.
The scale of anger about the chancellor’s role in the campaign was
laid bare when more than 60 Tory MP said they would refuse to back the
“Brexit budget” he said would be necessary if Britain voted to leave.
A narrow victory for remain early in the night for Newcastle, which
had been expected to reject Brexit by a stronger margin, set the pattern
for later results. There was a sharp divide across Britain, with London
and other major cities, and Scotland, voting to remain in the EU, while
smaller towns and more deprived economic areas backed Brexit.
Cameron and Osborne – who were both closely involved in running the
campaign – wheeled out an array of global policymakers and experts,
including the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, and the US
president, Barack Obama, to make the case that leaving the EU would
inflict severe economic damage.
But Gove caught the public mood when he said the public had had enough of “experts”.
The London stock market plunged at the start of trading at 8am on
Friday, as a wave of selling swept the City amid fears about the
economic consequences of Britain trying to survive outside the EU single
The FTSE 100 plunged by 550 points at one stage, a fall of 8.6%. But
the blue-chip index then stabilised, and is currently down 327 points,
or 5.2%, at 6009 after Cameron’s statement.
The pound has clawed back from its worst lows, but is still down 7.5%
at $1.375 against the US dollar. It has lost 13 cents since the polls
closed on Thursday night, when opinion polls suggested a remain victory.
A Whitehall source said the first priority for Cameron’s post-Brexit
administration was to steady the financial markets by ensuring that
there would be a smooth transition to a new prime minister.
To that end, there has already been “contact” between Downing Street with both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, the source said. David Cameron is expected to arrange a meeting with both, which “will be awkward to say the least”, within the next 48 hours.
Cameron’s statement was expected to be delivered at 7am but it
finally came after 8.15am, a quarter of an hour after the markets
opened. Labour will hold a shadow cabinet meeting on Friday morning to
calibrate its response.