In or out, our armchair survivor’s guide to EU referendum night
Thinking of staying up all night for the European Referendum result?
Good luck to those that make it bleary eyed through from close of polls at 10pm until 7am on Friday June 24 when Electoral Commission chair Jenny Watson will stand up in Manchester Town Hall and announce whether Britain is in or out of the European Union.
Do not expect the television coverage to be much like a General Election, though.
To start with, this is a one-off event. Results will be declared in 382 counting areas across the UK and passed on to 12 regional centres to be announced, including Birmingham. But there are no previous contests to compare against so it will be difficult to judge which side is winning.
The major broadcasters have not commissioned exit polls over concerns about their accuracy, so the sense of uncertainty and tension will be far greater throughout the night than is usually the case at a General Election.
Pundits will attempt to make sense of the results as they come in from the regional centres, but this will not be easy. If, for example, the West Midlands’ votes narrowly to leave, what does this add up to?
The answer is it means nothing much at all until a sufficient number of counting areas declare to enable the final result to be predicted, and if the contest is very close the winning side may not be known until about 6.30am.
Most of the drama will be played out after 4am, when the bulk of the counting areas declare including Birmingham although the post-5am declarations from largely rural areas thought to favour the leave camp could be crucial.
Immediately after the result is declared in Manchester, David Cameron will make a statement on the steps of Downing Street. If Britain has voted to remain in the EU, the Prime Minister will be mightily relieved.
He will, though, face the prospect of governing a deeply divided Britain, where some regions will have voted decisively to leave Europe, and others will have decided overwhelmingly to remain.
Polls in Scotland indicate a large majority in favour of remaining in the EU, but across the border in the north east of England, opinion seems to be sharply in favour of Brexit. The south west of England, Devon and Cornwall in particular, is thought to be largely Eurosceptic, while London and the Home Counties are on course to register a significant Remain vote.
If the result is in favour of leaving, Mr Cameron has said he will straight away invoke Article 50 of the EU Treaties – the formal mechanism by which a member state can leave the Union. This opens up a period of two years to negotiate new trading arrangements between Britain and the EU.
In these circumstances, Mr Cameron will have to appoint a negotiating team to broker new trade deals and border arrangements with Brussels. The talks would have to address the future status of British expatriates who are residents in Europe.
A remain result will probably see the British and European stock markets soar on Friday morning. Equally, a vote to leave could see billions of pounds wiped off the value of shares and the pound plummeting, opening up the possibility of the Bank of England stepping in to support sterling with sharp interest rate rises for the first time since Black Wednesday in 1992.
Mr Cameron will find himself put under intense pressure by Conservative Eurosceptic MPs, of whom there are many, if Britain does vote to leave. Supporters of leave campaign leaders Boris Johnson and Michael Gove may urge the prime minister to take unilateral action to withdraw Britain from the European Court of Justice and demand the return of billions of pounds of EU funding to the UK.
Although he has stated his intention to continue as prime minister even in the event of a leave vote, and to head up Britain’s exit negotiations with the EU, the smart money must be on Mr Cameron resigning as Tory party leader fairly quickly in the event of Brexit, firing the starting pistol in the Conservative race to choose a successor.
An autumn General Election cannot be ruled out, although the Fixed Term Parliament Act requires two-thirds of MPs to agree if an contest is to be held before May 2020. It remains to be seen whether a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party would fancy its chances in a battle against a Conservative party led by, say, Boris Johnson.
10pm – Polls close.
12.30am – Sunderland is expected to be the first counting centre to declare. This is an area where the Leave campaign is thought to be ahead by about six percentage points, according to political researchers, so in theory a 53%-47% Sunderland vote in favour of Brexit could equate to a dead heat nationally. That’s the theory, anyway.
1am – Results from Hartlepool expected. The Leave campaign regard this as a key area and expect about 60 per cent support. Anything less and the Brexiteers could be in trouble.
2am – More than 20 counting areas are expected to declare. This may be the first real opportunity to see the way things are going. Worth looking out for Wandsworth in London, where more than two-thirds of voters are expected to back Remain. In Wales, Wrexham is expected to back the Leave camp.
2.30am – Two Welsh declarations expected about now – Swansea and Caerphilly. Caerphilly, in particular, is likely to be finely balanced between Leave and Remain.
3am – By this point, we’ll be roughly two-fifths of the way there. But the results in so far could be misleading since many Labour areas, thought to be broadly Eursoceptic, will have declared.
3.30am – Edinburgh declares along with Aberdeen, Dumfries and a number of other Scottish local authorities. Edinburgh is tipped by Ladbrokes to have the highest vote in favour of Remain.
4am – This is where it gets interesting with some 88 areas expected to declare including Birmingham. This is the point where it may be possible to give an accurate prediction of the final result, unless the contest is very close.
5am – About nine out of 10 areas should have declared by now. The remainder are mostly rural areas which lean towards Leave, sometimes quite heavily.
6am – Keep an eye out for Bristol, a key battleground where Remain and Leave are thought to be neck and neck.
7am – Estimated time for final result, announced in Manchester.
7.30am – David Cameron expected to make statement in Downing Street.
8am – London Stock Exchange opens for business.
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