Following weeks of tight campaign that appeared to divide the nation down the middle, at least 46,499,537 Britons have on Thursday morning decided to vote the future of their country in a knife-edge referendum that could pull the island nation out of the EU and spark the biggest crisis in the bloc’s 60-year history.
The millions of voters across London and southeast England, braved torrential rain to have their say in a battle fought on two main fronts: immigration and the economy.
They will be deciding Britain’s future in the 28-nation European Union, which was born out of a determination to unite in lasting peace after the carnage of two world wars.
This is only the third nationwide referendum in UK history and comes after a four-month battle for votes between the Leave and Remain campaigns.
On the referendum ballot paper, the following question was asked:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
In one of the last opinion polls, “Remain” took the lead with 48 percent against “Leave” on 42 percent. The remaining voters were undecided, according to the telephone survey by ComRes for the Daily Mail and ITV News.
Two other surveys published on the eve of the referendum — both conducted over the Internet — put the “Leave” camp ahead by one or two percentage points, well within the margin of error.
“Leave” advocates say a Britain cut loose from the EU will be able to rein in high levels of immigration and take back power from Brussels, while the “Remain” camp warns of a huge economic shock if Britain abandons the bloc.
The EU has struggled with migrant and economic crisis and a Brexit vote would boost opposition to it within other member states.
“Stay with us,” European Council President Donald Tusk said in Lisbon on Monday, addressing British voters.
“Without you, not only Europe, but the whole Western community will become weaker. Together, we will be able to cope with increasingly difficult challenges of the future.”