London, Jun 24: Counting is underway today across the UK after millions of Britons cast their votes in the historic referendum that would decide whether the country will stay in or leave the European Union (EU).
Though no exit polls had been commissioned, an "on the day" survey by YouGov late last night predicted a 52 per cent vote share for the 'Remain' camp as opposed to 48 per cent for 'Brexit' or Britain's exit from the 28-nation economic bloc.
The final national result is to be officially declared by UK Electoral Commission's chief counting officer Jenny Watson from Manchester Town Hall. She had earlier said that her verdict is expected around "breakfast time" this morning (local time), triggering speculation over whether it would be an early breakfast or a late one based on how the counting trends pan out.
Brisk voting marked polling day yesterday as the results remained too close to call till the very last minute. Experts have predicted that a high turnout would benefit the Remain campaign, with early indications that voter turnout had been as high as 80 per cent in many regions.
The final announcement will bring to a close a fever-pitched and highly- strung campaign by both the 'Brexit' and Remain sides. There has been much speculation about how the final outcome would impact David Cameron's own political future as Prime Minister.
While Cameron has repeatedly stressed that the 2015 General Election has given him the mandate to continue irrespective of the result, the bitter campaign had exposed a deep divide within his own Conservative party.
However, more than 80 Eurosceptic MPs from his party, including leading Vote Leave campaigner Boris Johnson and Indian-origin Minister Priti Patel, moved quickly to calm the internal turmoil by asking Cameron to stay on as Prime Minister in a letter delivered to him soon after the polls closed last night.
"We who are supporters of Vote Leave and members of the Conservative Party thank you for giving the British people a choice of their destiny on 23 June. We believe that whatever the British people decide you have both a mandate and a duty to continue leading the nation implementing our 2015 manifesto," the letter states.
Both sides of the campaign had urged the over 46 million registered voters including 1.2 million British Indians to brave rains and flooding to cast their votes. In some areas, booths had to be shut and moved to a different location due to water-logging but the general spirit remained on a high throughout the day.
Cameron voted near Downing Street after he had closed the campaign with the message to voters to "get out there and vote Remain" and reject the "untruths" of the camp in favour of 'Brexit'. On the opposing side, former London mayor Boris Johnson, heading the final drive for the Vote Leave campaign, had hoped today could mark the UK's "independence day".
While the 'Remain' camp led by Cameron had campaigned for economic certainty and safety of jobs, the 'Brexit' camp had made their case as a vote to take back control of the UK's borders and finances. Immigration had been the central theme throughout and expected to swing most of the votes in favour of 'Brexit'. Indian-origin voters, the biggest ethnic minority group in the UK of an estimated 1.2 million, had reflected a divided house in line with the country-wide knife-edge divide in the four-month-long referendum campaign.
A British Election Study (BES) had found that 51.7 per cent of them were against 'Brexit', compared to 27.74 per cent in favour of leaving the economic bloc. However, a significant percentage (16.85 per cent) of those who fell into the "Don't Know" category in the study last month were expected to hold the key to the results.
The referendum ballot paper asked the question: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?" Voters have the option to mark a cross next to either "Should remain in the EU" or "Should Leave the EU", with the winning side needing more than half of all votes cast.
In a departure from the norm, no major broadcasters had commissioned any exit polls over concerns about accuracy. The bookmakers, however, had seemed more confident about a Remain vote and saw a flurry of late activity as the referendum became the biggest political betting event in history with an estimated 100 million pounds being wagered.
The financial markets had also signalled a more stable result throughout the week with the Pound Sterling holding strong. Numerous hedge funds had commissioned their own exclusive exit polls at a cost of up to 500,000 pounds, which asked people how they voted on their way out of polling stations.
The results were intended to help traders get an insight into the way the vote would go ahead of the public, with these polls remaining private. After polls closed at 10 PM yesterday (local time), sealed ballot boxes were collected and transported to the counting venue for each of the 382 local counting areas.
These represented all 380 local government areas in England, Scotland and Wales, plus one each for Northern Ireland and Gibraltar. Individual area results began pouring in through the night and will then be collated into 12 regions to create the final tally.