Today is voting day on the British referendum that will decide the U.K.’s relationship with Europe for generations to come—high time for a look at what will happen in the vote itself.
First, the big picture. The issue is whether the country should exit the European Union or stay within the bloc. The “Leave” camp argue the EU is a very different proposition to the European Economic Community that Britain joined in 1973. Since then, its scope has widened to cultural, judicial and other areas beyond that economic Common Market.
On the other side, the “Remain” camp argues that the U.K. gains in economic benefits, security and global influence from being a key member of a large bloc of nations.
Those are the two sides in the June vote. Below is an explanation of who is eligible to cast a ballot and the other “mechanics” of the referendum. When will the result be known? What will happen next? Here key things to know about the in/out vote over the issue widely known as Brexit.
What will the referendum question be?
The wording is:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
There are two options for voters: “Remain a member of the European Union” or “Leave the European Union.”
Coming up with a format wasn’t as straightforward as might be expected. The bill passed to allow the ballot to take place had a different question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” with a yes/no choice of response. But the original wording was changed after complaints that it was biased in setting out only the “remain” option.
Voters in Wales will also see a Welsh version of the question on their ballot papers.
When is voting day, and when do the results come in?
Polling stations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be open on June 23 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. local time, or 2 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time.
The ballot count is expected to start as soon as the polling stations close. The result should be known by early morning on Friday, June 24, though this depends on the circumstances in the 382 local areas where the count is being carried out.
The first set of results look likely to be released at 12:30 a.m. local time, the official Electoral Commission has said. About half of the counting areas are expected to have reported by 4 a.m., and about 80% by 5 a.m. They are expecting the final set of results at 7 a.m.
Who can vote?
Voters must be at least 18 years of age. Anyone who voted in May 5 local elections held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland won’t need to re-register for June 23’s referendum.
Figures showing how many people have signed up to vote will be released somewhere around five days before the referendum. This is who is eligible to vote in person or via mail:
• British and Irish citizens living in the U.K.
• British and Irish citizens who live overseas—any country, not just in the EU—who have registered to vote in the U.K. in the last 15 years
• People from the Commonwealth who have permission to enter or remain in the U.K.
The Commonwealth is an organization of 53 countries that mostly were formerly part of the British Empire. That means Indians, Australians and South Africans, for example, who are U.K. residents will be among those going to the ballot box.
And while Fiji and Zimbabwe have been suspended from the Commonwealth, people from those countries who live in the U.K. can still take part in the referendum.
• But people from the EU who reside in the U.K. won’t be able to vote, apart from citizens of Malta, Cyprus and Ireland.
While people can vote by mail, one instance shows there may be risk in that. Some Britons who live in Germany and France have run into difficulties sending their prepaid Brexit ballots back to the U.K.
What do the opinion polls say
Wednesday is the final day of campaigning for the referendum, and more polls are expected to be released.
In the latest batch of surveys, ORB for the Telegraph showed 53% of respondents back EU membership, compared with 46% who want to cut ties. But YouGov for TheTimes newspaper showed Brexit support has a two point lead, at 44% to 42%. An Survation poll for IG Group put the Remain camp at 45% and the Leave camp at 44%.
Electoral districts in Scotland, Northern Ireland and parts of London appear the least likely to vote for a Brexit, says Credit Suisse.
What’s at stake?
Trade agreements, immigration and labor rules, travel regulations and financial transactions are among a host of issues that would have to be renegotiated by British and European officials if the majority of Britons vote for the U.K. to leave the 28-member European Union.
Last year, 44% of exported goods and services from the U.K. went to the EU, representing 12% of Britain’s gross domestic product, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Brexit 101: The U.K.’s EU referendum explained
Should the U.K. remain in or leave the European Union? That’s the question the British public will decide in a referendum on June 23. Here’s what’s at stake.
The pound GBPUSD, +0.7140% has been the investing vehicle of choice for investors preparing for the vote. Sterling earlier this year hit a seven-year low against the U.S. dollar DXY, -0.19% trading below $1.39, on the prospect of a U.K.-EU breakup.
The pound has since recovered to see trades above $1.47. But as shown above, the race could be close—and the polls have been wrong before. Last year’s general election was expected to be too close to call, only to have the Conservative Party quickly win an outright majority in parliament.
Who’s backing “remain” in EU?
• Prime Minister David Cameron is leading the Conservative government’s efforts in campaigning hard to stave off a Brexit.
The Conservatives—also known as “Tories”—are seen as having been cornered into holding the referendum by anti-EU Tory party members and by political pressure from the popularity of the euroskeptic UK Independence Party. The Brexit issue has caused a bitter fracture in the Tory party, as individual lawmakers have been given free rein to back whichever side they want.
• President Barack Obama is a proponent of Britain staying in the EU, as are German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said a Brexit could affect the rights of Britons living in his country.