How will the UK’s EU referendum vote unfold on the day?

The UK’s referendum on whether to continue its membership of the EU takes place on June 23. It’s been cited by experts as a key risk facing financial markets and the broader economy in the UK and elsewhere. So how will the vote itself unfold and when will key announcements be made?

How will the voting and the count take place?
Polling stations open at 7am in the UK morning and close at 10pm in the evening on June 23.

Once the polls close, the ballot papers from the individual stations will be taken to 382 local centres. Results will be declared centre by centre once they are known and they have been approved by regional Counting Officers.

The UK’s Electoral Commission, the independent body tasked with overseeing elections and referendums in the country, thinks the local counts will be completed between 12.30 am and 7 am on the morning of June 24.

Local totals will also be collated into 11 regional totals and these will be combined with the results from Northern Ireland and Gibraltar to form the official result. The official announcement of the result by the Chief Counting Officer will be made in Manchester Town Hall around “breakfast time”, according to the Commission, although it adds there’s “considerable uncertainty” about the exact timing.   

But won’t the result become clear before the official announcement is made?
At General Elections in the UK, major broadcasters like the BBC, Sky News and ITV News team up with polling companies like GfK, NOP and Ipsos MORI to produce a national exit poll that’s released shortly after the polls close.

The broadcasters aren’t expected to do this for the referendum, just as they didn’t attempt to do one after the Scottish referendum on UK membership in 2014. The General Election exit polls have traditionally had mixed success in getting close to the actual result, and it’s technically much more difficult to do a poll on a referendum question because of a lack of data on previous behaviour and voting patterns.

Private polling company YouGov published a poll shortly after the Scottish referendum polling stations closed, but it isn’t known whether the company will repeat this after the EU referendum.

The Financial Times has reported hedge funds and investment banks are commissioning private exit polls in an attempt to gain an edge in the markets. Any results of these would only be evident in price moves in the market.

Analysis and debate will start the moment the polling stations close as the BBC and others start their referendum night programmes. As with the Scottish referendum, the BBC and other trusted media organisations will likely call the result of the referendum before the official result is announced, based on most of the local announcements coming in. This is likely to happen sometime between 3 am and 5 am, when more than 75% of the local results will be know. The closer the result is, the later this call will be able to be made.

What about the markets?
The fluctuations of referendum night will be most evident in price movements for the pound. The London stock market is closed during the night, and London stocks don’t start trading until 8 am on June 24, when the result is likely to be known.

However, if the result is a vote for the UK to leave the EU, then that will be felt in markets well beyond the pound and the local stock exchange. 

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