U.K. Voters Head To The Polls In The EU Referendum

It’s decision day. Britain is voting on whether to leave the European Union after a bitter and divisive campaign.

With the result too close to call, turnout is likely to be crucial. The Remain and Leave camps are pulling out the stops to ensure the maximum number of their supporters actually vote.

The referendum has pitted old against young, towns against cities, and split political parties. So all eyes will be on early returns in the north and later London.

We will be updating this live blog throughout the night, with the results possible in early Friday morning. You can also follow us on our Twitter account @FT.

Key points

  • Polls are open from 7am to 10pm
  • A record 46,499,537 people are entitled to vote
  • Initial indications from around the country are of high turnout, with many polling stations reporting queues
  • FT poll of opinion polls on Wednesday night put Remain fractionally ahead at 47% versus 45% for Leave
  • Sterling earlier hit its highest level this year, before retreating. Markets are braced for major fluctuations in the currency overnight given thin trading conditions
  • Official statistics released on the morning of the vote show that the nation’s population has hit 65 million

 

Hundreds of trade unionists from across Europe will descend upon Paris on May 28 for a rally in support of Brexit: by doing so, many are defying the wishes of their own leaders. The question is: why? The Remain camp has the support of all but a handful of Labour MPs and the biggest unions such as Unite, Unison and the GMB. They argue that membership of the EU has brought an array of protections for the environment and for workers’ rights. But millions of Labour voters – perhaps a third of the total – are still expected to vote for Britain to leave the EU. They consist of two camps, divided mainly by their outlook on immigration. Many blue collar traditional Labour voters will vote for Brexit in a bid to slow the flow of incomers entering Britain, as I wrote about here last week. Frank Field, a Eurosceptic Labour MP, has warned that the referendum could drive a “swathe” of Labour voters towards Ukip.

“Our open door policy, which began under Tony Blair, has pushed down wages at the bottom of the labour market,” he says. “It has increased the queues for health services and even more so for homes.”

 Read more

In the dying moments of the Scottish referendum campaign two years ago Gordon Brown electrified the unionist side with a heartfelt plea to Scots to stay in the United Kingdom.

Today saw the former Labour prime minister try to repeat the magic ahead of the referendum on EU membership. Read more

David Cameron is facing MPs for the first time since securing a package of reforms in Brussels to present his case for the UK remaining in the European Union. The prime minister’s appearance in the House of Commons follows a tumultuous weekend after his return from talks with European leaders on Friday, which has seen six of his cabinet ministers and Boris Johnson, the London mayor, back the “out” campaign.

Key points

  • Cameron presents what he calls a “new settlement” for Britain after almost two days of talks in Brussels

  • The reforms cover migration, protections for the City of London and an exemption for Britain from “ever closer union”

  • A quarter of the cabinet is at odds with the PM over Europe, including his close friend Michael Gove, the justice secretary.

  • The Conservatives are facing a damaging split with as many as 150 MPs, almost half the parliamentary party, expected to back Brexit

  • The opposition Labour Party is backing the campaign to remain in the EU, along with business leaders and trade unions

By Mark Odell and Jim Pickard

 

Recent appointments by Jeremy Corbyn have shown a Labour leader in no mood to compromise with his internal critics: they include John McDonnell, Seumas Milne and Andrew Fisher.

The latest possible name in the frame to join the leader’s office is equally controversial: Karie Murphy. Read more

George Osborne is encouraging new Conservative MPs to join a Treasury “support committee” as the chancellor looks to cultivate loyalists among the new 2015 intake in preparation for a leadership bid as early as this parliament.

The chancellor held a sandwich lunch with new MPs where he told the new 74-strong new Tory intake his department was “where the action is” as he pointed to protégés – Sajid Javid, business secretary, Amber Rudd, energy secretary, Greg Hands, chief whip – who had risen through his Treasury team. Read more

Labour strategists are blaming the likely loss of at least 30 seats in Scotland for projections suggesting that the party could get only a handful more MPs than it did in 2010 under the leadership of Gordon Brown.

For decades Labour has been able to outperform the Tories with the same proportion of the total votes because of an imbalance in the electoral system. Read more

Grace McCloud, sitting in the garden of her council house in Possilpark, listened patiently as Willie Bain asked for her vote.

We can get the Tories out and start delivering fairness in this country,” he told her. “Aye,” she replied, nodding.

We won’t get fairness while they’re still in.” Again she replied, smiling: “Aye.”

After Mr Bain disappeared up the street she gave her honest opinion. “No, I’m voting SNP. I’m all for independence,” she said.

Possilpark is one of the most deprived areas in Glasgow, scarred by the decline of manufacturing since the 1980s: out of 70,000 adults only 28,000 are registered taxpayers. Read more

Research by Elizabeth Rigby, Jim Pickard, Kiran Stacey and George Parker

The refurbishment of Muni Theatre in Pendle might not seem an obvious priority for George Osborne in his annual Budget statement.

But the north-western town is one of a number of marginal election battlegrounds to have benefited from the chancellor’s generosity just weeks from polling day. Read more

You might think that Labour has left it a little late, given that the Tory election slogan is now painfully over-familiar.

But the opposition party has chosen to enter the general election campaign promising a “Better Plan for a Better Future”.

The slogan is a deliberate take on the Tories’ more familiar promise of a long-term economic plan, which has been tested almost to destruction by Conservative MPs for several years. (Experts often say that the point at which Westminster is sick of a message is the point at which the public may start to remember it…)

Labour strategists are aware that referring to their rivals’ message could look defensive – but they argue that it is a “realistic” strapline that does not over-promise.

The party will argue that the Tories’ plan will only benefit the “few at the top”, whereas their alternative vision will help working families.

Labour has rolled out three separate themes over the last three months: NHS was the theme in January, the “next generation” – including tuition fees – was February, while Read more

He is one of the most powerful people in Westminster: shadow foreign secretary and chair of Labour’s entire election campaign.

Yet Douglas Alexander is under pressure on multiple fronts: determined to prove that he has the right election strategy while holding off the SNP in Scotland – with his own constituency under threat from the nationalists.

Tonight we’re running a detailed profile in the FT.

Meanwhile here are some observations from some of those who know him well.

Labour MP: Douglas lost the David campaign and the 2010 election: “Why did Ed risk giving him so much power again?”

Ally: “There has to be someone making unpopular decisions. He has been there for a long time and he has always had the political jobs, where you aren’t the one handing out the Read more

The insurance tycoon bank-rolling the Ukip election campaign has called for the state to be slashed and for a major overhaul of the “Luddite” NHS to increase the involvement of the private sector in health provision.

The comments from Arron Banks, founder of Go Skippy and Southern Rock – who has pledged £1m to Ukip – come at a sensitive time for the party over its health policy. Read more

Tony Blair used to say that his mission would be complete when the Labour party “learned to love” Peter Mandelson.

That mission suffered something of a setback on Tuesday after Lord Mandelson appeared on Newsnight criticising one of his own party’s setpiece policies: the mansion tax.

The co-architect of New Labour suggested that his party ought to ditch its proposal and – instead – adopt the Lib Dems’ rival policy.

With only a few months to go before polling day, the comments were not received universally well: “What prompts old Blairite warriors into repetitive poisonous treachery?” asked Paul Flynn, a left-wing Labour MP. Another MP suggested that the former minister was merely seeking the limelight: “Perhaps he has attention deficit disorder,” he asked.

There are clear issues surrounding a mansion tax per se: it could be seen as anti-aspirational; it could distort the market; it could lead to thousands of legal challenges; people could find ways to avoid it.

But do those problems apply any less to the Lib Dem version than the Labour one, as Mandelson seemed to suggest?

Perhaps the most useful by-product of his intervention (his precise words are down below*) is that it raised the question: what are the differences between the two mansion taxes? I’ve asked both parties and the answer seems to be: Not a lot.

SIMILARITIES

1] Labour wants to raise £1.2bn. The Lib Dems used to say they’d raise £1.7bn but are now more vague on this point.

 Read more

There was a touch of swagger about George Osborne on Wednesday as he told the country he had created a “strong” economy and could afford to divert billions of pounds of extra cash towards the NHS and a new road-building programme.

The public finances were in a “stronger” state than expected with a surplus expected by the end of the decade, he promised: “Out of the red and into the black for the first time in a generation.” Read more

Ed Miliband has fought 20 by-elections as leader of the Labour party: during this time he has gained one seat (Corby) and lost another (Bradford West).

There is a historic parallel for this achievement and it is not one that Mr Miliband will like to be reminded of. Read more

1] Dislike of the “Westminster elite”.

 

The SNP are poles apart from Ukip when it comes to their actual policies: the former is pro-European and broadly left-wing, the latter the opposite.

But there is a palpable read-across from the 45 per cent of Scots who voted “Yes” for independence last month and the huge numbers of English voters who backed Ukip on Thursday.

Both parties are mining the same seam of discontentment about the main three parties in Westminster.

Labour and Tory activists say they are getting the same negative message on the doorsteps, Read more

1] Don’t put too much faith in a single poll.

It was the Sunday Times YouGov poll – putting Yes at 51 per cent – which threw everyone into a blind panic. In retrospect that was a statistical outlier. The first rule of polls is always to ignore a single poll. That was thrown out of the window as Westminster woke up to the implications of the United Kingdom breaking up. Read more

Boris Johnson has teased Rupert Murdoch for his flirtation with Scottish independence, saying the media baron need look no further than his own business to understand the meaning of “Better Together”.

The London mayor joked that he wanted to see the four parts of the union kept together: The Sun, the Sun on Sunday, the Times and the Sunday Times, referring to Mr Murdoch’s four British newspapers: “It would be insane, to put that history, that union, that great collective endeavour at risk and to break up those titles, as some have from time to time suggested should be done.” Read more

The Romans used to predict the future by examining the entrails of dead animals. These days we use opinion polls, often with similarly haphazard results.

Even some of the most robust Westminster commentators are refusing to make firm bets about how the landscape will look after next May’s general election. It will be the closest fought, most unpredictable, most exciting battle for a generation. Read more

Greg Barker, the Tory energy minister – who posed with David Cameron in the Arctic eight years ago – is stepping down from the government in a vivid symbol of the Conservative party’s changing priorities.

Mr Barker, who as climate change minister was the number two in the energy department, is also set to quit politics altogether by stepping down as an MP next May. Read more