LONDON • A visibly distraught Mr David Cameron announced yesterday that he would step down as prime minister after voters backed Britain's exit from the European Union in a referendum, a move he had warned would be disastrous.
"The British people have made the very clear decision to take a different path and, as such, I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction," he said in a televised address outside his residence.
Mr Cameron, who led the "Remain" campaign in the referendum, had gambled that the outcome of the vote would strengthen his power, but the loss proved to be a politically fatal blow.
With the timing of his resignation yet to be determined, Mr Cameron said his view was that a new premier should be in place by the start of the Conservative annual conference in October.
"I will do everything I can as prime minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months, but I do not think it would be right for me to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination," he added, appearing to choke back tears before walking back through the black door of No. 10 Downing Street with his arm around his wife, Samantha.
Mr Cameron said negotiating the so-called Brexit will require "strong, determined and committed leadership", something he acknowledged he is in no position to supply, given his defeat and the rebellion inside his Conservative Party that the campaign fuelled.
He expressed no regret for calling the referendum, saying he had "always believed that we have to confront big decisions, not duck them".
According to bookmakers, the leading contenders to succeed Mr Cameron are former London mayor Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Michael Gove.
Mr Johnson, who led the "Leave" campaign in the referendum and is the favourite to succeed as prime minister, praised Mr Cameron yesterday as "one of the most extraordinary politicians of our age", while asserting that with the result, "we can find our voice in the world again, a voice that is commensurate with the fifth-biggest economy on earth".
"I believe British people have spoken up for democracy in Britain and across Europe," he said.
Earlier in the day, a large crowd booed Mr Johnson, shouting "scum" and "traitor" as he left his house under heavy police protection for a press conference on the referendum result.
In a letter, 84 eurosceptic Conservative lawmakers called on Mr Cameron to remain as prime minister regardless of the result.
It marked the first attempt to heal the deep rifts that have opened up in the ruling party since the start of the campaign. The signatories included Mr Johnson and Mr Gove.
The referendum was a massive victory for UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who has campaigned for Britain to leave the EU for a quarter century.
"Let June 23 go down in our history as our Independence Day," said Mr Farage. "The eurosceptic genie is out of the bottle and it will now not be put back."
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE