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Brits in USA reeling from afar over 'Brexit' vote

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 6/25/2016 Gregg Zoroya
A European Union flag, with a hole cut in the middle, flies at half-mast outside a home in Knutsford Cheshire after the historic referendum on June 24, 2016. © Christopher Furlong, Getty Images A European Union flag, with a hole cut in the middle, flies at half-mast outside a home in Knutsford Cheshire after the historic referendum on June 24, 2016.

British citizens living in the United States say they are stunned by the United Kingdom's vote to actually exit the European Union.

"Everybody was in shell-shock," said British-born Roy Yates, who attended a referendum "watch-it" party in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "I don't know how to feel because we all thought it would go the other way. I don't feel less European."

"I'm reeling. We're all reeling," said expatriate Patricia Kawaja, who lives in Miami. "I woke up in this morning, put the TV on in my bedroom straight away and I screamed out, 'Oh, no!.'"

Kawaja, the owner of a public relations firm, is also a big David Cameron fan and was further shocked to learn that Thursday's referendum result had prompted the prime minister, who opposed an exit from the EU, to announce he would resign.

"So it's a double dose of instability now," she said. 

It's unclear how many expats actually voted in the historic referendum. While the BBC estimates that there are 5.5 million British citizens who live permanently overseas, including 678,000 in the U.S., British Electoral Commission data show that only about 250,000 worldwide applied for voter registration since Jan. 1.

The law limited eligibility to those with permanent residency outside the U.K. for 15 years or less. They could vote either by mail or through a proxy.

Lawyer Michael Freestone, who lives in Washington, D.C., asked his brother, Mark, to cast a ballot for him in favor of Britain remaining in the EU. 

The very first thing Freestone did Friday morning after learning that his side had lost was to sign a petition for another referendum. 

"It's very depressing," said Freestone, 35, who views the referendum results as the most important thing to happen in his lifetime. "Almost certainly I think we're in uncharted territory."

He fears that leaving the EU will result in long-term financial damage to his homeland, noting that the results had already roiled global markets and devalued the pound. 

In San Diego, British-born Ron Choularton thinks it's the biggest event he's ever witnessed for his homeland since the Falklands War in 1982.

Choularton is editor of the monthly Union Jack, "North America's only national British newspaper."  On Friday, he was busy focusing his next issue on the fallout from the balloting — how it will change every-day issues for Brits, like driver's licenses, passports and the cost of traveling across the English Channel for quick holidays. .

Choularton was personally in favor of Britain remaining in the EU and said he found the hyperbole on both sides of the political divide loaded with lies. The results filled him with sadness.

"I think it's a stronger Europe together," he said. "I don't think Britain is going to sink. But I don't think we're better off."

That was a common theme among many expats: that U.K. would get through this okay. 

"We've survived a thousand years," said Kawaja. "We conquered the world, spread our empire and discovered most of the world. We're Brits."

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