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How low can it go? Sterling in freefall as Brexit scents victory in EU referendum

Published 24/06/2016

Supporters of the Stronger In campaign react after hearing results in the EU referendum at London's Royal Festival Hall.
Supporters of the Stronger In campaign react after hearing results in the EU referendum at London's Royal Festival Hall.
Sinn Fein MEP for Northern Ireland, Martina Anderson, at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast, for the counting of the votes in the EU referendum.
British comedian Eddie Izzard joins supporters of the Stronger In Campaign gather to wait for the result of the EU referendum at a results party at the Royal Festival Hall in London early in the morning of June 24, 2016.
Nigel Farage speaks to journalists at the Leave.EU referendum party at Millbank Tower in central London on June 23 2016
Leave.EU supporters wave Union flags and cheer as the results come in at the Leave.EU referendum party at Millbank Tower in central London early in the morning of June 24, 2016.
Remain supporters at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast, after polls closed in the EU referendum.
Leave supporters at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast, after polls closed in the EU referendum.
Caroline Wilson of Belfast City Council speaking with DUP MLA for Belfast South Christopher Stalford at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast, after polls closed in the EU referendum.
Counting continues at Titanic Exhibition Centre as SDLP's Alban Maginness and Clare Hanna discuss progress
Titanic Count Centre - Belfast former Justice Minister David Forde
Counting at Titanic Exhibition Centre
Counting at Titanic Exhibition Centre as local politicians keep a close watch on progress
Supporters of the Stronger In Campaign gather to wait for the result of the EU referendum at a results party at the Royal Festival Hall in London on June 23, 2016.
SUNDERLAND, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 24: Leave campaigners celebrate as they win the vote in Sunderland during the North East region European Union referendum count on June 24, 2016 in Sunderland, United Kingdom.
The first box of votes is opened at Titanic Belfast
The first Ballot Boxes are opened in the Foyle Arena in Derry-Londonderry last night shortly after the polls closed in the Brexit referendum. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 23.06.16
SDLP Party Leader Colm Eastwood and Remain campaigner arrives at the count centre in the Foyle Arena in Derry-Londonderry. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 23.06.16
Boris Johnson and his wife Marina leave after casting their votes at Hanover Primary School in north London, as voters head to the polls across the UK in a historic referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave.
A man accompanied by his dog laughs as he exits a polling station after voting in the EU referendum on June 23, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
A dog is tied to railings outside a polling station waiting for its owner to cast their vote on the EU Referendum on June 23, 2016 in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has gone to the polls to decide whether or not the country wishes to remain within the European Union. After a hard fought campaign from both REMAIN and LEAVE the vote is too close to call. A result on the referendum is expected on Friday morning. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
REDCAR, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 23: A man walks his dog from a polling station in a Youth Community Centre as voters head to the polls to cast their vote on the EU Referendum on June 23, 2016 in Redcar, United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is going to the polls to decide whether or not the country wishes to remain within the European Union. After a hard fought campaign from both REMAIN and LEAVE the vote is too close to call. A result on the referendum is expected on Friday morning. Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
REDCAR, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 23: A dog plays on the grass next to a polling station sign attached to railings in Redcar as voters head to the polls to cast their vote on the EU Referendum on June 23, 2016 in Redcar, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
SALTBURN-BY-THE-SEA, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 23: A dog is tied to railings outside a polling station waiting for its owner to cast their vote on the EU Referendum on June 23, 2016 in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has gone to the polls to decide whether or not the country wishes to remain within the European Union. After a hard fought campaign from both REMAIN and LEAVE the vote is too close to call. A result on the referendum is expected on Friday morning. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
A woman waits with her dog outside a polling station in Little Milton on June 23, 2016. Millions of Britons began voting today in a bitterly-fought, knife-edge referendum that could tear up the island nation's EU membership and spark the greatest emergency of the bloc's 60-year history. / AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNISADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
GLASGOW, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 23: Duke, an eight week old Labrador Collie sits in a basket with his owner's EU referendum polling card outside Notre Dame Primary School polling station on June 23, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. The United Kingdom has gone to the polls to decide whether or not the country wishes to remain within the European Union. After a hard fought campaign from both REMAIN and LEAVE the vote is too close to call. A result on the referendum is expected on Friday morning. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Father Peter Burn of Clonard Monastery leaving Springvale Employment and Learning Solutions polling station in West Belfast as voters head to the polls across the UK in a historic referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
©Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 23rd May 2016 First Minister Arlene Foster pictured at the polling station at Brookeborough Primary School Picture by Andrew Paton/Press Eye.com
WESTERHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 23: Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP and Vote Leave campaigner, poses for photographs after registering his vote in the UK's EU referendum, at his local polling station Cudham Church of England Primary School on June 23, 2016 in Westerham, England. The United Kingdom has gone to the polls to decide whether or not the country wishes to remain within the European Union. After a hard fought campaign from both REMAIN and LEAVE the vote is too close to call. A result on the referendum is expected on Friday morning. (Photo by Mary Turner/Getty Images)
WESTERHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 23: Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP and Vote Leave campaigner, talks to the media outside his local polling station, Cudham Church of England Primary School, after registering his vote in the EU referendum on June 23, 2016 in Westerham, England. The United Kingdom has gone to the polls to decide whether or not the country wishes to remain within the European Union. After a hard fought campaign from both REMAIN and LEAVE the vote is too close to call. A result on the referendum is expected on Friday morning. (Photo by Mary Turner/Getty Images)
People queuing outside a polling station in Battersea, London, this morning, as voters go the polls in the EU referendum. Rebecca Soni/PA Wire
A polling station being used in the EU referendum at Batley Town Hall in the constituency Labour MP Jo Cox. Cox, 41, died after being shot and stabbed in the street outside her constituency surgery in Birstall, near Leeds. Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Chelsea pensioners are reflected in a puddle of rain water as they leave after being ushered into a polling station to cast their ballot papers at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, west London on June 23, 2016, as Britain holds a referendum to vote on whether to remain in, or to leave the European Union (EU). / AFP PHOTO / LEON NEALLEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
A Chelsea pensioner uses a smartphone to photgraph the media as he arrives at a poling station to cast his ballot paper at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, west London on June 23, 2016, as Britain holds a referendum to vote on whether to remain in, or to leave the European Union (EU). / AFP PHOTO / LEON NEALLEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
Chelsea pensioners are ushered into a polling station to cast their ballot papers at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, west London on June 23, 2016, as Britain holds a referendum to vote on whether to remain in, or to leave the European Union (EU). Millions of Britons began voting Thursday in a bitterly-fought, knife-edge referendum that could tear up the island nation's EU membership and spark the greatest emergency of the bloc's 60-year history. / AFP PHOTO / LEON NEALLEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha leave after casting their votes in the EU referendum, at a polling station in London on June 23, 2016. Millions of Britons began voting Thursday in a bitterly-fought, knife-edge referendum that could tear up the island nation's EU membership and spark the greatest emergency of the bloc's 60-year history. / AFP PHOTO / LEON NEALLEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walks with Labour Party activists as he leaves his home to cast his vote at a polling station at Pakeman Primary School in Islington on June 23, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JUNE 23: SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon casts her vote in the EU referendum at Broomhouse Community Hall on June 23, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. Voters across the country are beginning to cast their votes in the referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union or remain. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Millions of Britons began voting today in a bitterly-fought, knife-edge referendum that could tear up the island nation's EU membership and spark the greatest emergency of the bloc's 60-year history. / AFP PHOTO / Robert PerryROBERT PERRY/AFP/Getty Images
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JUNE 23: SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon casts her vote in the EU referendum with her husband Peter Murrel at Broomhouse Community Hall on June 23, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. Voters across the country are beginning to cast their votes in the referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union or remain. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Daisy Treasure, one, outside a polling station in Newbury Park, near Ilford in Essex, as voters head to the polls across the UK in a historic referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave. Ella Pickover/PA Wire
A polling station being used in the EU referendum at Birstall library, West Yorkshire, near where Labour MP Jo Cox was attacked and killed outside her constituency surgery. Danny Lawson/PA Wire
A police officer stands outside a polling station being used in the EU referendum at Birstall library, West Yorkshire, near where Labour MP Jo Cox was attacked and killed outside her constituency surgery. Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves after casting his vote at a polling station in Islington, London, as voters head to the polls across the UK in a historic referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave. Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire
Scotland's First Minister and Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon, poses for photographers as leaves after voting at a polling station at Broomhouse Community Hall in east Glasgow, on June 23, 2016, as Britain holds a referendum on whether to stay or leave the European Union (EU). / AFP PHOTO / Robert PerryROBERT PERRY/AFP/Getty Images
Nuns leave after casting their votes at a polling station in London, on June 23, 2016, as Britain holds a referendum on whether to stay or leave the European Union (EU). Millions of Britons began voting Thursday in a bitterly-fought, knife-edge referendum that could tear up the island nation's EU membership and spark the greatest emergency of the bloc's 60-year history. / AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLISJUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images
GIBRALTAR - JUNE 23: Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and his wife Justine vote in the EU Referendum at a polling station on June 23, 2016 in Gibraltar, Gibraltar. The United Kingdom and its dependant territories are going to the polls today to decide whether or not the the United Kingdom will remain in the European Union. After a hard fought campaign from both REMAIN and LEAVE the vote is expected to be very close. A result on the referendum is expected on Friday morning. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
GIBRALTAR - JUNE 23: Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and his wife Justine depart after voting in the EU Referendum at a polling station on June 23, 2016 in Gibraltar, Gibraltar. The United Kingdom and its dependant territories are going to the polls today to decide whether or not the the United Kingdom will remain in the European Union. After a hard fought campaign from both REMAIN and LEAVE the vote is expected to be very close. A result on the referendum is expected on Friday morning. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Prime Minister David Cameron and wife Samantha arrive to cast their votes at a polling station in Westminster, London, as voters head to the polls across the UK in a historic referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Poll clerk Lana Kernan setting out the Polling Station sign at the Springvale Employment and Learning Solutions polling station in west Belfast, as voters go to the polls in the EU referendum. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Prime Minister David Cameron and wife Samantha arrive to cast their votes at a polling station in Westminster, London, as voters head to the polls across the UK in a historic referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Father Peter Burn of Clonard Monastery entering Springvale Employment and Learning Solutions polling station in West Belfast as voters head to the polls across the UK in a historic referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave.Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The Polling Station sign at the Springvale Employment and Learning Solutions polling station in west Belfast, as voters go the the polls in the EU referendum. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Polling stations open across Northern Ireland as voting begins in the UK's referendum on remaining in the European Union. Voters cast their vote at Moneyrea Primary School polling station in Co. Down. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Polling stations open across Northern Ireland as voting begins in the UK's referendum on remaining in the European Union. Voters cast their vote at Moneyrea Primary School polling station in Co. Down. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Polling stations open across Northern Ireland as voting begins in the UK's referendum on remaining in the European Union. Voters cast their vote at Moneyrea Primary School polling station in Co. Down. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Polling stations open across Northern Ireland as voting begins in the UK's referendum on remaining in the European Union. Voters cast their vote at Moneyrea Primary School polling station in Co. Down. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Polling stations open across Northern Ireland as voting begins in the UK's referendum on remaining in the European Union. Voters cast their vote at Moneyrea Primary School polling station in Co. Down. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Polling stations open across Northern Ireland as voting begins in the UK's referendum on remaining in the European Union. Voters cast their vote at Moneyrea Primary School polling station in Co. Down. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Polling stations open across Northern Ireland as voting begins in the UK's referendum on remaining in the European Union. Voters cast their vote at Moneyrea Primary School polling station in Co. Down. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

The pound fell sharply on financial markets overnight as early results in the EU referendum suggested the Leave campaign was performing above expectations.

Despite pessimistic forecasts from Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who said he thought Remain had "nicked it", Brexit pushed into a slender early lead on the back of wins in Sunderland, Swindon, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Kettering.

Pro-Leave Tories including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove signed a letter to David Cameron urging him to stay on as leader whatever the result of the referendum.

Influential backbencher David Davis said the Prime Minister could stay on for a "couple of years" but should put someone else in charge of negotiations on a new relationship with the EU, while long-standing Eurosceptic John Redwood suggested Tories should wait to see if Mr Cameron was willing to "implement the public will" after a Leave vote. Mr Redwood said the PM should bring in talent from the Leave side to build "a new government to bind the country together".

Senior Labour figures including Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper suggested that the scale of support for Leave was fuelled by discontent with the way the country was heading on issues like wages, jobs and opportunities for the young.

"It's a nation divided and the PM will have a big responsibility - particularly if it's a Remain win - to show he understands what people are saying on the Leave side of the argument," said former Labour leader Mr Miliband.

"Labour faces that responsibility too. As far as Labour voters are concerned, there are two issues. There is obviously immigration, but beneath that there is a whole set of issues about people's lives and the fact that they don't feel politics is listening to them."

Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that whatever the result, Mr Cameron would be a "hostage" to his pro-Brexit MPs who will make sure they seize "key positions".

As polling stations closed at 10pm on Thursday, Ukip leader Nigel Farage said he thought Britain had voted to remain in the EU, but said his party would not give up the fight to take control back from Brussels.

"Win or lose this battle, we will win this war," he said. "The Eurosceptic genie is out of the bottle and it will now not be put back."

Other senior Leave figures declined to back Mr Farage's assessment, which he told the Press Association was based on information from private exit polls conducted by friends in the City, as well as his personal sense of how referendum day had gone.

With no exit polls conducted by broadcasters, a reliable picture of the likely outcome was not expected to emerge until the early hours of Friday, with the final result expected at breakfast time.

The final poll of the campaign forecast a Remain victory by a margin of 52% to 48%. But the first result to be announced in the UK gave only a slender lead of 50.7% to 49.3% for Remain in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which had been expected to give a more enthusiastic thumbs-up for EU membership.

Within moments of Sunderland opting for Leave by an emphatic 61% to 39%, the value of Sterling slumped by around 3% in a sign of market concern that Britain may about to take the dramatic step of quitting the EU after 43 years. Remain racked up a number of successes in Scotland, as expected.

Some 84 Leave-backing Conservatives signed the letter to the PM, as Tories battled to restore a unity riven by weeks of divisive "blue-on-blue" fighting.

In it they wrote: "We believe whatever the British people decide you have both a mandate and a duty to continue leading the nation implementing our policies."

As well as Mr Johnson and Mr Gove, the signatories included Cabinet-level Brexit backers Chris Grayling, Theresa Villiers, John Whittingdale and Priti Patel.

But former Cabinet ministers Owen Paterson, Cheryl Gillan and David Jones did not sign, along with the chair of the backbench 1922 committee Graham Brady and influential MPs including Mr Davis and Bernard Jenkin.

Former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who quit the cabinet weeks before the referendum, did not sign but said he thought Mr Cameron should stay.

Labour's Jonathan Ashworth said the Conservative Party was "utterly preoccupied with leadership infighting rather than the future of the country", adding: "This letter cannot unsay what senior Tory politicians have been telling us for weeks - that the British people simply cannot trust David Cameron."

Mr Grayling said it would be an "absolute nonsense" for Mr Cameron to lose his job given that he won an election just over a year ago promising to hold a referendum.

"It would be an absolute nonsense if David Cameron felt, having given the country that choice, if they take the decision he couldn't carry on the job," he told Sky News.

"We are completely behind him staying, we want him to stay and that letter is a statement of commitment to his leadership."

A high turnout was expected in the referendum, despite torrential rain in South-East England which forced the closure of some polling stations and caused transport disruption for commuters planning to vote on their way home.

A record 46,499,537 voters were eligible to take part, said the Electoral Commission, meaning that a turnout a little over 72% could surpass the highest number of ballots cast in a general election.

Press Association analysis of turnout figures suggested that either camp will need a total of around 16,800,000 votes to pass the winning post.

Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb said the Government must respond to social divisions which seemed to have pushed many of the "white working class" to vote Leave.

He told Sky News: "In those areas which are strongly perhaps white working class there will be a strong vote for Out and that's something as a Government we need to respond to.

"Clearly, I think one of the features of this referendum are some of those social divisions and clearly as a Government, as a political class, all parties, we need to show that we're responding to that."

 

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