As counting winds down, the Leave campaign holds the lead in Britain's historic referendum to decide whether the country remains in the European Union.
A final count could be announced at any time.
The turnout was reported to be high in a vote that touches on immigration, sovereignty, security and Britain’s economic future.
The leader of the Leave campaign, Nigel Farage is already - tentatively - declaring victory after saying earlier it appeared the Remain campaign would win.
The uncertainty of the count sent the pound tumbling, and it was down more than five percent overnight in London.
Polls closed as scheduled Thursday, despite heavy rain and flooding in southern England that snarled traffic and prompted the closure of parts of London’s tube system, making it difficult for some evening commuters to make it to polling stations. Flooding forced at least two polling stations in the London area to move.
Betting odds for the the EU referendum result are displayed in a betting shop in Westminster, Thursday, June 23, 2016.
For some braving the rain, the decision boiled down to the ideal of peace on which the European Union was founded.
“We have for the first time in hundreds of years, we’ve had peace in Europe for over 50 years. I’m a man of a generation who hasn’t had to go to fight a war in Western Europe and I think that’s a wonderful thing that is worth celebrating,” said Chris Kenyon, 41, one of the first to vote at a polling station in the north London borough of Islington.
“For me, this is peace, prosperity and power, and I find it extraordinary that we’re at this point of even discussing exiting the European Union,” he told VOA.
Early polls indicated Remain victory
As voters went to polling stations, opinion surveys showed the two sides in a dead heat, with some polls showing the Remain camp holding a slight lead.
Hopes of retaining the bloc’s second richest economy boosted investor confidence and European markets rallied. Economists have predicted dire consequences if Britain quits, with some saying the British pound could lose up to 15 percent of its value. In Thursday’s rally, the pound reached a 6-month high.
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Despite the bad weather, turnout was high, culminating a bitter, 2-month campaign that centered largely on immigration, a highly sensitive and divisive issue in a nation whose immigration rate has doubled since 2000.
Prime Minister David Cameron led the call to remain. The British leader cast his vote near 10 Downing Street early Thursday. Earlier, he made a final pitch to persuade undecided voters, saying, “We are stronger, we are better off in a reformed European Union.”
British analysts say Cameron’s political future depends on the outcome of the poll. The referendum is being held after Cameron in February failed to secure a deal with the EU that would have restricted benefits for immigrants and curbed business and other regulations.
If the voters’ decision is to leave the EU, pundits say Cameron will lose his mandate and have little choice but to resign, something the British leader has until now said he will not do. Farage has already called for Cameron to step down.
Many voters who attended a memorial for slain British lawmaker Jo Cox link her murder to the bitterness surrounding the Brexit debate, June 23, 2016. (L. Ramirez / VOA)
Final push for voters
Proponents of a Brexit also made last-minute calls to undecided voters. Anti-immigration crusader Nigel Farage said, “We can vote to get our borders back.”
Polls showed the Leave campaign lost some support following the June 16 murder of anti-Brexit lawmaker Jo Cox. The killing, allegedly by a right-wing extremist with a history of mental health problems, prompted the temporary suspension of campaigns on both sides and caused many British voters to pause and reflect on the bitterness surrounding the vote.
“This referendum has been very divisive and I think that’s completely unnecessary. We ought to be able to work forward on issues of the economy and migration and security, those issues, without being so divisive,” said Kimberly Griffin, a Remain supporter attending a memorial for Cox Thursday at Trafalgar Square. “We never should have had this referendum, and I think this is a tragic consequence."
It will not be entirely clear how much of an impact Cox’s murder will have until votes are counted early Friday.
London voter Maggie Hopkinson, attending the memorial, said she was still undecided. Asked what bearing Cox’s murder would have on her decision, she replied, “None whatsoever. She was a beautiful person killed by a madman,” she said.