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EU referendum: Farage says Remain will 'edge' contest but vows to keep fighting

By Sarah Knapston and Kate Holton

Leading Leave campaigner Nigel Farage appeared ready to concede defeat last night as counting got under way in the historic referendum on UK membership of the European Union.

There were no exit polls, but a YouGov opinion poll released as stations closed put Remain ahead by 52% to 48%. Pollsters Ipsos Mori, meanwhile, had Remain at 54% last night following analysis from yesterday and today. The turnout was estimated at 69.4%.

The first big result was in Newcastle, where Remain narrowly won with a vote of 65,404 (50.7%), compared to Leave on 63,598 (49.3%).

The pound also surged after the polls closed at 10pm, reaching its best level against the dollar in 2016 at close to $1.50.

Trading had been strong throughout the day, suggesting increased confidence in Remain edging the vote.

A letter signed by 84 MPs, two-thirds of whom openly backed Vote Leave, has been delivered to Downing Street, urging David Cameron to stay on whichever way the result goes.

It marked the first attempt to heal the deep rifts that have opened up in the ruling party since the start of the campaign.

Ukip leader Farage told Sky News that the Remain camp seemed likely to "edge it", but insisted that his party would continue its fight to take Britain out of the EU.

Mr Farage said: "It's been an extraordinary referendum campaign. Turnout looks to be exceptionally high and (it) looks like Remain will edge it.

"Ukip and I are going nowhere and the party will only continue to grow stronger in the future."

However, Leave.EU said that it had conducted an "internal poll" of 10,000 people that suggested that Brexit was leading by 52% to 48%. After that poll was released, Mr Farage's position appeared to shift and he said he was "always confident".

Asked about whether he was conceding defeat, he replied: "There's a bit of a difference here between who's winning this battle and who's winning the war."

A record number of voters were eligible to take part in the referendum, with the Electoral Commission putting the number at 46,499,537. Anecdotal evidence from around the country suggests that turnout has been high in many areas - something widely expected to favour the Remain camp.

In Gibraltar, which is taking part in the referendum as a British overseas territory that lies within the EU, turnout was a healthy 84%. The result there was a landslide. Residents voted overwhelmingly in favour of Remain - 19,322 to just 823 for Leave. Orkney, meanwhile, voted 7,189 to remain and 4,193 to leave.

Fine weather in Scotland and in Northern Ireland also heartened Remain campaigners, with voters also thought to be strongly pro-EU.

But earlier, moody storm clouds over the South of England had disgorged a month's worth of rain, deluging roads, crippling train services and flooding polling stations. In some areas, voting booths were abandoned altogether and relocated to higher ground. Yet the soggy British summer did little to dampen the resolve of voters who, at the end of months of often fierce debate, were determined finally to have their say.

The four-month campaign has sharply polarised the nation, and the final outcome of the vote could change the very face of Europe.

With a Remain vote, Britain has been promised a special status exempting it from any further political integration, but European leaders will still have to address a sharp rise in euroscepticism across the continent.

Results were due to be announced by most of the 382 individual local counting areas by 3am this morning.

Among those affected by the weather was former London mayor Boris Johnson, a leading voice in the Leave campaign, who cast his vote with just 25 minutes to spare after returning to the capital from his daughter's graduation in Scotland.

The Leave campaign focused on warnings that Britain would be unable to control immigration levels as long as it was an EU member.

Remain said a Brexit would cause economic chaos, impoverish the nation and reduce its clout on the world stage.

The killing of pro-EU lawmaker Jo Cox, a 41-year-old mother-of-two who was shot and stabbed on a street in her electoral district in northern England a week ago, prompted soul-searching about the vicious tone of the referendum campaign.

Belfast Telegraph

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