LONDON: Millions of Britons voted Thursday in a bitterly-fought, 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.
A record 46.5 million voters have registered to decide 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.
Financial markets appeared to be banking on a “Remain” win with stocks surging in London and the pound rising to its highest level against the dollar this year, reaching $1.4947 at around 1035 GMT.
The rise came after an Ipsos MORI opinion poll for the Evening Standard newspaper released Thursday put “Remain” on 52 percent and “Leave” on 48 percent.
Other opinion polls have suggested a narrow lead for “Remain,” but well within the margin of error.
After a deeply divisive campaign, experts predict a high turnout across the country, where polling stations have been set up at locations including churches, schools and even a launderette and a windmill.
Across London and southeast England, many voters braved torrential rain to have their say in a battle fought on two main fronts: immigration and the economy.
The once-in-a-generation referendum asks: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
“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. The “Remain” camp warns of a huge economic shock if Britain abandons the bloc.
Independent commentators have also suggested Brexit could trigger a constitutional crisis.
In one scenario, the United Kingdom could shrivel to a rump state of England and Wales if a pro-EU Scotland holds another independence referendum and Northern Ireland, facing a “hard border” with the Irish Republic, decide to quit.