‘Brexit’ Referendum |Vote Too Close to Call

     LONDON (AP) — Britain’s referendum on whether to leave the European Union was too close to call early Friday local time, with increasingly mixed signals challenging earlier indications that “remain” had won a narrow victory.
     The British pound soared after two leading supporters of the “leave” campaign said it appeared the pro-EU side had won, then plummeted as Britain’s first few counting areas reported their results. The stage was set for a nerve-wracking night of ballot-counting after a day of high turnout and foul weather.
     “It may be possible that the experts are going to have egg on their face later on tonight,” University of Strathcylde political scientist John Curtice told the BBC after results from Newcastle showed worse-than-expected figures for pro-European vote. “It may be the first sign that the ‘remain’ side are not going to do as well as those early polls suggested.”
     The first results, from England’s working-class northeast, were a smaller-than-expected “remain” win of 50.7 percent in Newcastle and a bigger-than-expecded “leave” vote of 61 percent in nearby Sunderland.
     A vote to leave the EU would destabilize the 28-nation trading bloc, created from the ashes of World War II to keep the peace in Europe. A “remain” vote would nonetheless leave Britain divided and the EU scrambling to reform.
     As the polls closed Thursday, U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage set a downbeat tone for the supporters of a British exit — or Brexit — from the EU, telling Sky News television “it looks like ‘remain’ will edge it” in the referendum.
     But he walked back those comments in later, telling reporters at a “leave” party in central London that “maybe just under half, maybe just over half of the country” had voted to pull Britain out of the EU.”
     Pollster Ipsos MORI said a survey conducted on Wednesday and Thursday suggested the “remain” side would win Britain’s EU referendum by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent.
     Earlier Thursday, the firm had released a poll that indicated a 52-48 victory for “remain.” That phone poll of 1,592 people had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. But the firm’s chief executive, Ben Page, said continued polling on Thursday suggested a bigger swing to “remain” that gave the 54-46 result.
     The overseas territory of Gibraltar was the first to report results late Thursday, and as expected the British enclave reported an overwhelming vote for “remain” — 96 percent.
     There as elsewhere, turnout appeared high. Officials in Gibraltar said almost 84 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast ballots; witnesses and reporters elsewhere said turnout was higher than in last year’s general election, which was 66 percent.
     High turnout is expected to boost the “remain” vote, because “leave” supporters are thought to be more motivated. But high turnout in working-class areas that typically have lower tallies could also boost the “leave” vote.
     “I think it is going to be really close,” said photographer Antony Crolla, 49, outside a London polling station.
     “Leave” campaigners claim that only a vote to leave can restore power to Parliament and control immigration. The “remain” campaign, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, argues that Britain is safer and richer inside the EU.
     Polls had for months suggested a close battle, although the past few days have seen some indication of momentum swinging toward the “remain” side.
     Torrential rains, especially in the “remain” stronghold of London, raised fears of diminished turnout. London’s Fire Brigade took 550 weather-related calls as the capital was hit by heavy rain, thunderstorms and lightning strikes. Some polling stations were forced to close because of flooding.
     Photo credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA via AP
     Photo caption: A woman on a bicycle leaves a polling station near to the Royal Chelsea Hospital, London Thursday June 23, 2016. Voters in Britain are deciding Thursday whether the country should remain in the European Union.

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