Brits take to the polls in EU referendum

A European Union flag flies in front of the Union Jack
A European Union flag flies in front of the Union Jack

Brits have begun voting on whether to stay in the European Union in a referendum that has split the nation and is being nervously watched by financial markets and politicians across the world.

An Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard newspaper, conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, suggested support for Remain stood at 52 percent while Leave was on 48 percent.

Separate polls published late on Wednesday also suggested a modest late swing towards Remain, but the overall picture was of a vote that was too close to forecast.

Much will depend on turnout, with younger Brits seen as more supportive of the EU than their elders but less likely to vote.

Polling stations opened this morning and the results are expected to be announced by the 382 individual local counting areas between around 1am and 3am on Friday.

David Cameron called the vote after facing pressure from the anti-EU wing of his party and the surging UK Independence Party (UKIP), hoping to end decades of debate over Britain’s ties with Europe.

The Leave campaign says Britain’s economy would benefit from an exit from the EU, or Brexit. However Cameron beleives it would cause financial chaos and impoverish the nation.

He voted early, and wrote on Twitter: “Vote Remain – so that our children and grandchildren have a brighter future.”

His main rival, former London mayor Boris Johnson, whose decision to support “Leave” galvanised its campaign, told voters on Wednesday this was the “last chance to sort this out”. It is only the third referendum in British history. The first, also about membership of what was then called the European Economic Community, was in 1975.

The four-month campaign, which has exposed bitter divisions in the ruling Conservative Party, was dominated by immigration and the economy, and shaken by the murder of pro-EU Labour MP Jo Cox last week.

The killing of the 41-year-old mother of two young children, in her constituency, prompted a pause in the campaign and soul-searching about its tone. Cox’s husband said she had been concerned about the coarsening of political dialogue.