The referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU referred to as “Brexit”, has lead to unprecedented Irish interest in UK politics. Given that Ireland and Britain share so much – historically, culturally, politically and economically – it’s not surprising that many here have been watching the campaign so closely.
While we have had 9 referenda on Europe since we joined on the same day as Britain, this is only their second referendum on Europe. As it’s over 40 years since the UK and Northern Ireland went to the polls for a European referendum, it’s worthwhile to set out what we can expect to happen in the coming days.
Thurs 23rd 7am Polls open
Thurs 23rd 10pm
Thurs 23rd 11.30pm Local turnout figures start to be announced
Fri 24th 12.30am-1am First results announced in local counting centers
Fri 24th 3am-4am
Fri 24th 4am
Fri 24th 7am
Fri 24th Breakfast time National result announced in Manchester Town Hall
Fri 24th Mid-morning
Fri 24th Lunchtime
Exit poll and First results
None of the major media outlet have announced they are conducting an exit poll and are unlikely to. This follows the trend at the Scottish Independence referendum when no exit poll was conducted.
Given that people are going to the polls from Gibraltar to the Outer Hebrides and the large number of ex-pats casting a postal vote, it’s not surprising that no exit poll is happening.
The UK’s Electoral Commission has published a guide to the count process. This includes a detailed list of what time each count will be declared. They expect the first results shortly after midnight, when eyes will turn to Silksworth Community Centre in Sunderland. Sunderland takes pride in its tradition of being the first to declare a result and will compete with the City of London and Foyle in Derry who are also expected to declare around 12.30am. Hartlepool, Newcastle upon Tyne, Oldham and Swindon are all predicted to deliver a result by 1am, 3 hours after polls close.
They expect the first results shortly after midnight, when eyes will turn to Silksworth Community Centre in Sunderland. Sunderland takes pride in its tradition of being the first to declare a result and will compete with the City of London and Foyle in Derry who are also expected to declare around 12.30am. Hartlepool, Newcastle upon Tyne, Oldham and Swindon are all predicted to deliver a result by 1am, 3 hours after polls close.
New declaration structure
There are 382 counts, one for each council area in Britain, plus Northern Ireland and Gibraltar. These counts are taking place in 216 venues. The polling stations, verification process and counting process are what we are used to but the “management structure” for this referendum is totally different to UK elections.
Firstly there are no Returning Officers, instead we have Counting Officers. Unlike council or general elections, there are also 12 Regional Counting Officers and a single national Chief Counting Officer. Votes are verified and counted in each of the local areas and then passed on to their Regional Counting Officer.
The Regional Counting Officers collect local totals, announce a regional result and pass on that result to Chief Counting Officer. Once all the 12 regional totals been declared, the Chief Counting Officer will announce the final referendum result. These different declaration levels are unique to UK referendums.
Regional declarations times
4am Wales (22 counting areas)
4am Northern Ireland (18 counting areas)
5am North East (12 counting areas)
5am Scotland (17 counting areas)
5am London (33 counting areas)
5am Yorkshire & Humber (21 counting areas)
6am West Midlands (30 counting areas
6.30am East Midlands (40 counting areas)
6.30am South West (38 counting areas)
7am Eastern (46 counting areas)
7am North West (39 counting areas)
7am South Eastern (68 counting areas)
Bellwether areas & final result
Counting in Northern Ireland will take place in eight venues based on Westminster constituencies and a result will be known at 4am. The overall outcome won’t become clear until this time when regional results will begin to flood in. Watch for ‘bellwether’ areas like England’s eastern and southern coasts, the East Midlands and Cumbria. These areas will help decide the final result.
The final national result will be announced by the Chief Counting Officer in Manchester Town Hall at ‘breakfast time’ on Friday morning according to the UK’s Electoral Commission. While local recounts are expected where the result is close, there is no provision in law for a national recount.
After the Chief Counting Officer Jenny Watson announces the result there will be a lul in proceedings until Prime Minister David Cameron makes a statement mid-morning. This is likely to be followed by statements from the devolved administrations in Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont.
While European leaders will also acknowledge the result in the afternoon it is unlikely a substantive response, from anyone, will be made until Monday.
Brian Hayes is the Fine Gael MEP for Dublin