Jane Onyanga-Omara and Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY 6:27 p.m. EDT June 23, 2016
Great Britain is voting on whether they will stay in the European Union or not. The outcome of that vote could weigh heavily on U.S. economy and intelligence agencies. VPC
Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, said it "looks like 'remain' will edge it," Sky News reported. In addition, the final poll from online research firm YouGov has “remain” on 52% and “leave” on 48%. While not an exit poll, the survey was conducted on the day of the referendum.
Ahead of the vote, a new Ipsos Mori poll completed Wednesday night showed the "remain" supporters with a narrow lead — 52% to 48%.
Although there are no public exit polls and the final official results might not be known until Friday morning, financial markets, which have commissioned their own private exit polls, appeared to feel that the "remain" forces may have squeaked through.
The British pound surged 1% against the dollar to its highest levels this year.
A British exit— or Brexit — could send global financial markets into a tailspin because of fears that the result will have a negative impact on trade, economic growth, jobs and investment in Europe.
While the "remain" ledger seemed strong, former London mayor Boris Johnson, who leads the "leave" campaign, said polls suggested the outcome would be close. He said "all the information is that turnout is good in areas where we need it to be."
If Britain should choose to leave the alliance, it would be the first since the EU was formed 43 years ago. It could also prompt other member nations to follow the U.K.'s lead and reverse a decades-long drive for European unity.
As Britain and Europe held its — for now — collective breath, the counting process got underway immediately. Sealed ballot boxes, and ballots sent by mail, were being collected and transported to the 382 counting locations.
The Electoral Commission said a record 46.5 million people have registered to vote. The question on the ballot paper is: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?" The side that gets more than 50% of the votes will win.
The four-month campaign has been acrimonious. Backers argued that severing ties with the EU is the only way to reduce a flood of migrants and protect the U.K.'s independence from burdensome EU regulation. Supporters of remaining in the EU, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, said jobs, the economy, national security and the U.K.'s standing on the world stage would be compromised outside the alliance.
In Rome, Italy's finance minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, is being quoted as saying at a forum on Thursday that no matter what happens, it will be impossible to assert "let's pick up as if nothing" happened.
The Italian news agency ANSA quoted him as saying that as Britons vote to decide whether to exit or stay in the EU, that "the fracture has already happened and in a very clear-cut way." Padoan said the consequences will vary, depending on the outcome, but "there won't be the same path as if there hadn't been the referendum initiative."
It is the U.K.'s third nationwide referendum, and its second on EU membership. U.K. voters backed staying in the EU in 1975. Scotland failed to win independence in a 2014 vote that was held only north of the border.
Eligible voters included British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are residents in the U.K., that is, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Also voting were U.K. nationals living abroad who have been registered voters in the U.K. in the past 15 years. In additionl, members of the House of Lords and commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar were also able to vote, unlike in a general election, the BBC notes.
Voting was disrupted in the South of England on Thursday as flash floods forced some polling stations to be relocated, the BBC reported.
Peter Carlyon, 22, who was campaigning to stay in the EU in central London, said Thursday's vote was "a once in a generation" chance. "We can’t change our minds next week.”
But Kevin Campbell, 36, said that an influx of Eastern Europeans coming to the U.K. under the EU's freedom of movement laws was damaging his small business. He works for a firm that installs fire-protection systems.
Later Thursday, Johnson unveiled a poster that said “last chance to vote" at his daughter Lara's graduation ceremony at St Andrews University in Scotland, according to media reports.
While many observers feel Cameron will have to resign if Britons vote to leave the EU bloc, dozens of Conservative "leave" lawmakers have signed a letter saying the prime minister should stay in office whichever side wins the membership referendum.
The letter signed by 84 legislators says “whatever the British people, decide you have both a mandate and a duty to continue leading the nation implementing our policies.”
That leaves more than 60 Brexit-supporting Tory lawmakers who did not sign.
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