The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it

Here are three big ways that Britain leaving the E.U. might affect Americans. (Video: Daron Taylor, Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

The whole world is reeling after a milestone referendum in Britain to leave the European Union. And although leaders of the campaign to exit Europe are crowing over their victory, it seems many Britons may not even know what they had actually voted for.

Awakening to a stock market plunge and a precipitous decline in the value of the pound that Britain hasn't seen in more than 30 years, voters now face a series of economic shocks that analysts say will only worsen before they improve. The consequences of the leave vote will be felt worldwide, even here in the United States, and some British voters say they now regret casting a ballot in favor of Brexit.

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"Even though I voted to leave, this morning I woke up and I just — the reality did actually hit me," one woman told the news channel ITV News. "If I'd had the opportunity to vote again, it would be to stay."

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That confusion over what Brexit might mean for the country's economy appears to have been reflected across the United Kingdom on Thursday. Google reported sharp upticks in searches not only related to the ballot measure but also about basic questions concerning the implications of the vote. At about 1 a.m. Eastern time, about eight hours after the polls closed, Google reported that searches for "what happens if we leave the EU" had more than tripled.

The run-up to the vote was marked by a bitterly divided campaign, one that was as much about immigration fears as it was about the global economy.

But despite the all-out attempts by either side to court voters, Britons were not only mystified by what would happen if they left the E.U.— many seemed not to even know what the European Union is.

What is the E.U.? To be fair, that question will now take on a much deeper significance than perhaps Google's users realized when they typed that into their browsers.

More on Brexit:

Brexit-weary Britons suddenly want to run away to Canada, too

British millennials like me are the real losers in the Brexit vote

Here’s what to read and watch to understand the European Union

Larry Summers: Why Brexit is worse for Europe than Britain

The critical fact Trump forgot in his viral speech on Brexit

Five alarming immediate reactions to Brexit from the markets