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UK's historic EU referendum on knife-edge as millions vote

A record number of registered voters - more than 46 million - are expected to vote


Press Trust of India  |  London 

Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

With the UK's fate in the European Union (EU) on a knife-edge, millions of Britons began voting on Thursday in the historic referendum that will decide whether the country will stay in or leave the 28-nation bloc after an acrimonious campaign.

Both sides of the campaign have appealed to a record number of registered voters – more than 46 million – including 1.2 million British Indians, for a big turnout as Prime Minister David Cameron made his final appeal to "get out there and vote Remain" and reject the "untruths" of the camp in favour of 'Brexit' or Britain's exit from the EU.

The Prime Minister voted with wife Samantha at a polling booth in Westminster, just yards from his Downing Street office from where he will keep a keen eye on the results.

"It is a fact that our economy will be weaker if we leave and stronger if we stay," Cameron told supporters in Birmingham on Wednesday as he travelled up and down the country to make a final push for votes.

As part of his closing speech, he invoked Britain's popular war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill, saying, "The greatest privilege of my life is to stand in my office two yards away from where Winston Churchill made that decision to fight on against Hitler in 1940. He didn't want to be alone, he wanted to be with the Poles and the French and the others fighting for European freedom and democracy."

On the opposing side, former London mayor Boris Johnson, heading the final drive for the Vote Leave campaign, insisted his side was "on the verge of victory" and that today could mark the UK's "independence day".

The last poll tracker of 'The Daily Telegraph' and and a YouGov poll for 'The Times' both showed remain at 51% and leave at 49%, reflecting the neck-and-neck nature of the campaign throughout the four-month period since Cameron announced the date of the referendum in February.

A victory for remain therefore is within the margin of error, as two further polls from Opinium and TNS also forecast leave on 51% and remain on 49%.

Last night another poll, by ComRes, gave Remain an eight-point lead with 54% compared to 46% for Leave.

The referendum ballot paper asks 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 "Remain a member of the European Union" or "Leave the European Union" and whichever side gets more than half of all votes cast will win.

Edinburgh Council in Scotland reported that nearly a fifth of the city's 345,000 voters have already submitted postal votes in the EU referendum, with more than 82% of the city's postal voters returning their ballot paper by last evening.

First Published: Thu, June 23 2016. 15:48 IST