Anticipating a “Remain” verdict, bookmakers and banks in London’s financial district and around the globe prepared for a nervous overnight vigil as the UK voted in a historic referendum with major implications that may or may not put the Great back into Britain.
There was a note of caution amid the upbeat pro-Remain mood among banks, bookmakers and a new crop of opinion polls released on Thursday morning – they had gone woefully wrong during the May 2015 general election – putting on hold any plans for early celebrations.
Bookmakers William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes and online betting sites offered odds overwhelmingly favouring a vote for Britain to remain in the European Union. There were reports that large amounts exceeding £50 million had been wagered on the referendum outcome. The ballot paper has two options: Remain and Leave.
Symbolising the sound, light and fury of the referendum, London and southeast England were struck by much lightning before polling began. But as leaders and voters trekked into booths, heavy rains calmed tempers frayed by the most acrimonious campaign in British political history.
With a record electorate of 46.5 million, both Remain and Leave camps are hoping for a high turnout. Some booths in central London reported long queues on Thursday morning, but elsewhere few ventured out to vote during office hours. Voting was expected to peak in the evening before booths closed at 10pm GMT.
Initial results will start trickling in around midnight GMT, which will be reported live by BBC and other news channels overnight. There will be no exit polls. The final results are expected by 7am GMT, with an immediate impact expected in the world of finance as markets open on Friday morning.
The Treasury and the Bank of England have put in place measures to deal with volatility and other situations in the event of a Leave vote. Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to address the nation live on television from outside 10, Downing Street soon after the outcome is known.
Cameron and wife Samantha were among the first to vote soon after polling began, with other leading lights of the campaign, such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel and Nigel Farage following soon after.
As many expressed relief at the conclusion of the long and vicious campaign, one of the outcome’s imponderables being discussed in Westminster and elsewhere is: What if Scotland votes to Remain and the more populated England opts to Leave? What will be the implication if the outcome in Wales and Northern Ireland is different?
Popular landmarks in capitals of European countries were swathed in projections of the British flag as a mark of solidarity and an appeal to vote to remain in the EU. However, top EU leaders such as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker were not exactly conciliatory. He said: “Out is out.”