Officials in the United Kingdom began counting ballots as polling stations closed in a referendum Thursday on the nation’s continuance in the European Union.
A survey by pollster YouGov showed the Remain camp ahead by a margin of 52 to 48 percent, but an initial result — from Newcastle — revealed a narrower than expected win for that bloc.
Following a bitterly divisive campaign that was focused on questions of immigration and identity, Britons were bracing for the outcome of the historic vote.
Some prominent ‘Brexit’ campaigners acknowledged that they might be heading for defeat.
Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party and a leading voice in favor of leaving the EU, said the “turnout looks to be exceptionally high and looks like Remain will edge it.”
Farage told Sky News that his prediction was based on “what I know from some of my friends in the financial markets who have done some big polling”.
Government minister Theresa Villiers, who also campaigned for Britain to leave, also said that she believes the Remain side had won.
A vote to stay would come as a massive relief to Britain’s 27 EU partners, who had feared the departure of the bloc’s second biggest economy would weaken Europe’s global clout and fuel the rise of eurosceptic movements in other countries, Reuters noted.
In the first result officially declared, the British overseas territory of Gibraltar bordering Spain voted overwhelmingly in favour of Remain, as widely expected.
If it votes to stay, Britain has been promised a special status exempting it from any further political integration, but European leaders will still have to address a sharp rise in euroscepticism across the continent.
A Brexit vote could deal a potentially fatal blow to the career of Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum and campaigned for the country to stay in, against a Leave camp led by rivals from within his own Conservative Party.
Results are due to be announced between around 0000 GMT and 0300 on Friday.
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