Welcome to our election blog

It is the big day. Millions have until 10pm to cast their vote in the UK's third general election in less than five years. Boris Johnson's Conservative party has led in opinion polls since the election was called five weeks ago.

It has been a bruising campaign as politicians have jostled for attention - the right sort - from voters as 650 seats in the House of Commons are in contention. Many incumbent MPs have stood down, so more than 50 seats are up for grabs.

The blog is free to access today and tomorrow so please join us for the ride as ... Britain decides.

General election splashed over front pages

Election, election. That's what is all over the papers this morning as the daily broadsheets and tabloids take their positions.

The centre-left Guardian leads with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urging voters to deliver a "shock to the establishment" while the Daily Mirror highlights key Labour themes such as the National Health Service, education and child poverty. "For them ... vote Labour," it says.

The Times puts the spotlight on a study that shows Nigel Farage's Brexit party could cost Boris Johnson's Conservatives 16 seats. A hung parliament is still possible, it says.

The rightwing tabloid Daily Mail urges voters to "brave the deluge" and back Boris Johnson. The mass-circulation Sun backs the Conservatives with a lightbulb analogy, a favourite of elections past, on its front page that shouts "Save Brexit": If Boris wins today, a bright future begins tomorrow but if red Jez gets in, the lights will go out for good", its front page says.

Other news: Tributes pour in for David Bellamy, the broadcaster who popularised botany, who died yesterday aged 86. Analysis and news put the spotlight on Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel peace laureate and once revered for her defence of human rights, at the UN International Court of Justice in the Hague.

The choice facing British voters

James Blitz outlines how Thursday's dispiriting election presents voters with stark choices.

The 2019 general election, he says, has been widely described as the most significant in a generation, a moment with huge implications for Brexit and the future of the UK.

Rarely have British voters been presented with such stark choices at the ballot box, ranging from Jeremy Corbyn’s hard left economic policies to Boris Johnson’s determination to drive through a hard Brexit.

Read the full story.

How much does the weather matter?

Britain has not held an election in December for nearly 100 years, writes Philip Georgiadis.

In 1923, Ramsay MacDonald formed the first ever Labour government with the support of the Liberals following a hung parliament.

Much debate has swirled over whether holding an election in the depths of winter will depress turnout, but research from the University of Reading suggests bad weather is in fact a poor indicator of voter behaviour.

The academics combined data from the University of Reading’s weather station with post-war voting figures from the Wokingham constituency in which it sits.

It found that turnout actually tends to increase by around 4 per cent on rainy days. It also rises the colder it is - with each degree Celsius drop leading to an increase in turnout of around 0.4 per cent.

Dr Mark Shanahan, head of the department of politics, said bad weather was “a pretty poor predictor of a suppressed voter turnout or intention”.

People are far less likely to vote if they don’t feel engaged in the race, either in perceived ‘safe’ seats, or when manifestos are fairly similar across parties, as was the case in the Blair years. But if a race is tight, either locally or nationally, and there’s a distinct choice between parties, turnout tends to rise.

Bands of rain forecast for polling day - Met Office

The Met Office is forecasting bands of rain and showers moving east as millions of British voters head to the polls.

Here's the forecast for today:

Early cloud and rain over Northern Ireland, Wales and south-west England spreading into most other regions. Hill snow likely for parts of Scotland and northern England. Northern Scotland staying brighter. Becoming windy with gales in parts of the south-west later.

Temperatures will range from 9.7 degrees C on the Isle of Wight to minus 0.7 degrees in Alice Holt forest in Hampshire. The most rain will fall in Aviemore in Scotland with 30mm expected.

Markets watch: Pound hits nine-month high

Sterling ticked up this morning to touch the highest level against the dollar since March as traders bet the ruling Conservative party will secure a majority in today's election. The UK pound's session high was $1.3228, a level it hasn't touched since March 27.

The pound, heading for its fourth weekly rise in a row, has risen about 2 per cent this week. Today's high puts the pound's climb at more than 10 per cent in the past 14 weeks against the dollar. Versus the euro, the UK currency is up 0.1 per cent at €1.1865, or 84.26p.

The benchmark FTSE 100 index rose 0.4 per cent with the composite Stoxx 600 up about the same percentage.

The weird world of the election battle bus

As Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson stepped off their battlebuses for the final time last night, they left in their wake hungry hacks, snappy slogans and a stalking chicken, and consigned the political charabancs that have provided a colourful backdrop for the past five weeks to the paint shop.

For those caught up in this weird political roadshow, following the main party leaders as they tour the country, the surreal became normal.

Take it from George and enjoy the ride.

Some evergreen stories for you to mull over

Maybe you are in a queue waiting to vote. Here's a quick reminder of some of our thoughts at the Financial Times in the run-up to the election. Read our editorial in which we call for a realignment: Britain’s fateful election offers no good choices

Robert Shrimsley on the failure of the middle way: UK moderates must win back Labour and the Tories

Happy reading!

Sterling reverses earlier gains as Britain votes

The pound has reversed its session gains and recently fell 0.2 per cent against the dollar as it came off a nine-month high that it touched earlier.

Sterling was recently trading at $1.3156 against the dollar and was 0.3 per cent down against the euro. The FTSE 100 index rose 0.7 per cent in mid-morning trading in London.

Buckle up for night shift as sterling reflects some early jitters

Are you not entertained?

The real action for sterling today will not start until after the 10pm exit polls, but the day has brought a little excitement already, writes Katie Martin.

Without any obvious trigger, the pound edged down by 0.3 per cent to reach a session low of $1.3150 shortly after 11am.

It is likely not worth reading too much into this. Voter turnout appears to be high, but that may or may not turn out to be meaningful.

Paul Donovan, chief economist at UBS Wealth Management, considers the 24 hours ahead with his usual dry style:

Currency and betting markets seem to expect a Conservative majority. These markets are plutocratic. UK voting is democratic. There are lots of uncertainties. The only certainty is that the Brexit process will remain interminably tedious, one way or another.

Buckle up for the night shift. The short version of how markets are likely to respond is that a clear Tory win would be mildly positive for sterling. Anything else would deliver a heftier shift the other way.

As snow dusts Pennines, angry voters share their thoughts

Victoria Berryman, 74, was up early to vote in the West Yorkshire village of Slaithwaite, reports Andy Bounds in Slaithwaite.

Snow dusts the Pennine moors nearby and a cold rain falls but she is propelled by quiet rage.

“I am incredibly angry and upset,” she says. “I think [Boris] Johnson is a liar and I will be voting tactically to try to get him out.”

In the Colne Valley constituency, held by Labour’s Thelma Walker by 915 votes, that means choosing the leftwing party.

A Liberal Democrat opposed to Brexit, Ms Berryman said the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system was broken.

People don’t understand the electoral system. It is time for proportional representation.

And still at the polling station in that West Yorkshire constituency

Some voters welcome the general election, the third in nearly five years for the UK.

As Andy Bounds reports from Slaithwaite:

Alan Singleton, 70, bedecked in a Christmas jumper, says he plans to vote Conservative.

We need a resolution to Brexit. I am hoping then the country gets back together.

He says the campaign has been nasty.

There have been lots of porkies [lies] and I do not like the use of social media. You do not know what is true and what isn’t.

Rachel Voldman, an actress and health worker, is desperate for a Labour government. Married to an immigrant, she says the Conservatives have increased racism with anti-immigrant rhetoric and run down public services.

Migrants put more into that tax system than they receive and 10 per cent of doctors are from the EU. I hope we get the Tories out…but I think the best we can hope for is a hung parliament.

Merry Christmas: mull your choice and wine well

The UK has not held a pre-Christmas general election in nearly a century when Britons went to the polls in 1923.

On December 6 in that year, also a Thursday, the electorate delivered the most seats to the Conservative party, led by Stanley Baldwin.

The Labour party, which had formed 23 years earlier, and the Liberal party however gained enough seats to produce a hung parliament. Ramsay MacDonald formed the first Labour government with the support of Asquith's reunited Liberals.

Mull your choice and your wine well and enjoy the mince pies!

Johnson votes in Lib Dem target seat

Boris Johnson must be confident of fending off the challenge in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, choosing to vote in the Cities of London and Westminster, a Liberal Democrat target, rather than his own seat.

The decision is a notable break from tradition, as prime ministers usually vote in the constituencies where they are elected.

Westminster is a flagship Tory seat. However, this election the Liberal Democrats have it firmly in their sights. In the 2016 EU referendum, Westminster voted 72 per cent Remain. The party has moved Chuka Umunna, Labour’s most high-profile defector, from Streatham to contest the seat, hoping his popularity will boost their chances.

Leaders in Scotland: Sturgeon and Swinson cast their votes

First minister and Scottish National party leader Nicola Sturgeon was joined by her partner Peter Murrell as she voted in Glasgow, while the Liberal Democrats' Jo Swinson cast hers in the constituency of East Dunbartonshire.

Ms Sturgeon tweeted, after posing with a small terrier for photos, that she had overcome her fear of dogs "for the cause".

Meanwhile, the Scottish Greens' co-leaders Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie voted in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The return of the Labour-backing bot on Tinder

The Tinder bot is back.

Labour campaigners are employing “bots” on Tinder to take over people’s dating profiles and send automated messages to other users that mimic real conversations, in a twist on the old adage that sex sells.

Users of the dating app sort through photos of potential dates by swiping right for those they are interested in, and left for those they are not, writes Anna Gross.

When two people swipe right for each other, they are able to start chatting on the app’s messenger.

Tinder “bots” are downloadable app extensions that take over individuals’ accounts and swipe right indiscriminately, suggesting interest in thousands of people at a given time.

After a match is created, the bot initiates conversations using a responsive script:

Charlotte Goodman, one of the bot’s developers, earlier this year told the Financial Times:

Dating apps are good platforms for activism. Where else do you meet so many strangers who are ready to talk to you and about personal, intimate subjects?

"You’re more likely to listen to someone you fancy,” she added.

Tories hold a comfortable lead in the FT poll tracker

The latest FT poll shows the Conservatives are sailing into the election with a healthy lead of 10 percentage points over Labour. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are trailing 20 percentage points behind the Tories.

The FT poll tracker, which combines the forecasts of all major British pollsters, predicts the Tories will take a 44 per cent share of the national vote, and Labour 33 per cent, a result that would put Boris Johnson on course for the biggest Conservative majority since John Major’s 21-seat victory in 1992.

Snapshot of voters in Edinburgh

Early turnout appeared high in Edinburgh North and Leith, a seat dominated by Labour until 2015 but now held by the Scottish National party and hotly contested by the Conservatives.

Lifelong Labour voter Marion Clement said her main goal was “keeping the Tories out” of government after what she said had been their running down of public services over the last decade, reports Mure Dickie in Edinburgh.

But this time, she said, she would back the SNP to do so, and believed that Labour’s weakness in Scotland meant it would be better to have a strong nationalist bloc at Westminster.

Ms Clement, 69, voted against Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum but said continued Conservative rule and exit from the EU might make her rethink her opposition.

“Seriously, a right-wing English nationalist Brexit would have a big influence,” she said. “I think you are going to see a fracturing of the union.”

Max Adam, a company director, said he would vote Conservative in the hope of getting "Brexit done" and to protect the unity of the UK.

A former supporter of remaining in the EU, Mr Adam, 49, said Britain needed to have confidence that it could thrive outside the bloc.

"This is a weird election," he said.

Mr Adam added:

People are having to vote to stay in or get out. The concept of a hung parliament terrifies me. [If that happened,] I would leave Britain, I couldn’t put up with this for another five years.

Uxbridge voters brave pouring rain to have their say

In Uxbridge and Ruislip, where Boris Johnson is expected to hold on to his seat despite a strong campaign from Labour's Ali Milani, Rita Pritchard, a former bursar, says she plans to vote the same way she has done her whole life, reports George Steer.

Ms Pritchard says:

I'm a Conservative and with Boris 100 per cent.

Kate Beeching, 36, works in social housing and plans to vote for Labour. "I believe in equality, and for a very rich country we've got an incredible amount of poverty and far too many people living in precarious situations."

Thomas Grace, a 21-year-old student, has braved the pouring rain and says he also plans to vote Labour, citing the party's stance on environmental issues.

I'm voting for the future, for the planet and for policies that will help the poorest people around the country.

Diana Luxton, retired, says that, though she doesn't trust him, she will vote for Mr Johnson "because, from a selfish point of view, it is infinitely preferable to have the prime minister as your local MP".

Ms Luxton, 74, adds:

People here seem to like him.

But not Flora Ria, 35, who is unemployed. "Boris says one thing on Monday and another thing on Tuesday, he is very unreliable," she says, before sticking her fingers in her mouth and pretending to vomit.

In for the count: the northeast derby

One prediction at least can be made with – almost complete - confidence about tonight’s general election results: the first declaration will be from northeast England, writes Chris Tighe.

Sunderland and Newcastle, rival cities barely 15 miles apart by car, provide manna from heaven for broadcasters trying to fill the yawning gap between the exit poll result, announced seconds after the polling stations close at 10pm, and the definitive results for the UK’s 650 constituencies.

One or other city, or both, are likely to announce a result within about 60 minutes of polls closing.

In the 2017 general election Newcastle Central was first with their results at 11pm with Houghton and Sunderland South following at 11.05pm.

Poll vault: Ballot boxes are run in during the count at the Silksworth Community Pool, Tennis and Wellness Centre as the general election count begins on June 8 2017 in Sunderland:

Sunderland holds the historical record with a 2001 declaration for the former Sunderland South seat at 10.43pm.

Although the cities’ individual constituencies are not representative of the whole UK, as all six have been Labour for many years, they provide factual data from which national swings and turnout can be extrapolated and are thus an early gift for pundits.

Officials in both cities insist they are not in a race and that accuracy, not speed, is their goal. But, given their centuries-long rivalry, it is difficult not to see a competitive spirit.

Being so quick does confer kudos for the cities, heightening an image of dynamism. Key to their success is exhaustive planning and preparation.

Yet Sunderland may well rue its speed in the 2016 referendum on EU membership, when it was the first place nationally to declare for Leave, in effect announcing the ultimate result.

Consequently a city whose economy depends heavily on Nissan and other inward investors has found itself indelibly associated with the vote to leave the bloc, engendering some unfavourable media commentary.

Who now realises that, when all the referendum votes were counted in June 2016, Sunderland was not the top Leave result by percentage but the 80th?

Sterling falls back as voters head to polls

Sterling dropped against the dollar and euro, reversing the session's earlier gains, as millions in the UK cast their vote in the third general election in nearly five years.

The UK currency shed 0.4 per cent versus the dollar in early afternoon trading in London and was down by a similar percentage against the euro. The pound was recently at $1.3132 and at €1.1798, making €1 worth 84.73p.

The currency has tended to respond positively during the election campaign to projections of a Conservative majority.

Newspaper calls on Electoral Commission to tackle fake news

The Yorkshire Post has gained national attention this week after its sister paper, the Yorkshire Evening Post, broke the story of four-year-old boy who had to be treated on the floor of a local hospital emergency department because of a lack of beds, reports the FT’s Andy Bounds.

It is making the most of its prominence with a front page calling for the Electoral Commission regulator to launch an inquiry into the conduct of the campaign, and produce rules binding politicians to the truth.

"The people of this country must never again be asked to navigate a maelstrom of misinformation in order to decide who will govern them," it said.

The Leeds-based daily, which covers around 5m people and was founded in 1754, was horrified when a reader said she would stop buying it because she had read on Facebook that the hospital story was untrue. In fact, the Facebook posts purporting to be from a friend of a senior nurse in Leeds, claiming the photo was staged, were themselves fabricated.

The Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson tweeted the front page:

Traders scramble to protect against a drop in sterling

Traders and investors are bolstering their protection against a potential drop in sterling following tonight's election result, underscoring the sense of uncertainty after a key poll projected a tighter Tory majority.

A measure of the difference in cost between betting on a fall in the pound compared with a gain -- known as one-week risk reversals -- has increased, according to Bloomberg data. The gauge earlier this week swelled above the level recorded ahead of the 2017 election and has since pushed to an even more elevated level.

A closely-watched poll released earlier this week by YouGov showed the Conservatives would gain a 28-seat majority in the House of Commons, down markedly from a previous projection of 68.

The tightening sparked fresh concerns over the spectre of a hung parliament. The pound had risen around 3 per cent during the election campaign due in part to expectations for a Tory majority. A majority for Boris Johnson's party would help reduce political uncertainty that has weighed heavily on the pound in recent months, analysts have said.

Traders have said they will be looking closely at tonight's exit poll, due at 10pm London time, for direction on how the rest of the evening will play out.

Ireland's Varadkar hopes for ‘decisive’ election result

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he hopes the country will not have to face the uncertainty of a hung parliament in the days following the general election.

Speaking at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels, he said:

"The best thing for Ireland, for the UK and for Europe would be an end to the uncertainty, so whether that’s prime minister Johnson winning with a large majority, or Remain parties winning a majority, we’ll work with whatever the outcome is.”

He said it would be difficult to work with a hung parliament that is unable to reach a majority decision on “anything”.

“I just hope we’re not in that position tomorrow,” he said.

However, the Taoiseach did not accept the choice was between a hung parliament and a victory for Conservative leader Boris Johnson. He said that achieving a post-Brexit trade agreement between the EU and UK would be “crucial for Ireland”, in the event that Mr Johnson's deal is passed.

He expressed particular concern for the future of Ireland’s agrifood sector, exporters and small businesses.

In October, the two leaders claimed they can see “a pathway to a deal” on Brexit, marking a big shift in sentiment around negotiations.

Tories in bid to get out the vote with claim of high Labour turnout

The Conservative party is attempting to persuade backers to vote by claiming it has seen a high turnout among Labour voters.

The party said in an email to supporters, "our teams on the ground are reporting a high Labour turnout." The note, seen by the FT, asked "have you voted yet? Have your friends and family?"

It is still more than four hours before the first voting data are set to be publicly released.

Voters in the north-east ponder over their ballot choices

Reports Chris Tighe on the road:

Do UK politicians underrate the public’s intelligence? In many cases, yes, judging from conversations with voters in the so-called "red wall" constituencies of the north of England, which the Conservatives are trying to snatch from Labour this election.

General elections offer a great opportunity to converse with a hugely diverse range of people and to listen to their views — not that this is how all politicians see the general election process.

Some have been treating the public as the proverbial nail to be hammered with leaden soundbites, yet many voters continue to apply their own benchmarks.

Witness a Stockton South voter, encountered by the FT, who quoted Socrates while discussing his difficulty in reconciling his past Liberal Democrat inclinations with his strong support for Brexit. Or how about 93-year-old retired gardener Derek Worsdale, who paused while shopping in a Co-op shop in Trimdon, Sedgefield, to explain why Labour’s current leader was not a decisive issue for him. “I vote for the principle of socialism.”

Or take self-employed builder Garry Rickinson in Darlington, waiting to collect his daughter from a dance class. “Corbyn is unelectable. He is too transfixed with socialism and the ideas underlying it. He is sticking to what he believes in but I don’t think it’s a model that works in this society.”

The Athenian view of democracy is admittedly not daily conversation among Leave voters in northern constituencies but many see the government's failure to implement the Brexit vote, three years on, as an affront to ethics.

This helps explain the stance of retired factory worker Colin Lee, a Bishop Auckland voter. “We’ve had a democratic vote. I voted Remain. I want to leave now — I think if we have a democracy we have to vote to come out.”

Scepticism of politicians’ promises was rife, summed up by Darlington mother-of-three Vicki Bull, hurrying to collect her children from school: “They promise you the world. And deliver you a stone.”

Pound fall accelerates as exit poll looms less than four hours away

A drop in Britain's currency has accelerated with investors selling the pound ahead of tonight's election results and also amid a broad rise in the dollar.

Sterling was recently down 0.8 per cent against the US dollar at $1.3093. It was down by a more mild 0.6 per cent against the euro, with one pound buying 1.1785 units of the common currency.

The dollar index, a measure of the buck against half a dozen peers including the pound, was recently up 0.3 per cent after optimistic comments on US-China trade talks made by Donald Trump.

Still, traders are keenly awaiting the exit poll at 10pm London time, which is expected to provide a first look at the results of the election. Results will then trickle in throughout the evening.

Investors have been ramping up their protection against potential falls in the pound over recent days. The currency has rallied over the course of the election campaign and is up some 10 per cent from a hit a low below $1.20 in early September. Most analysts say that because of the rally, the risk of a fall is significantly greater than that for a rise.

Seats to watch: Can the Tories break the 'red wall'?

Central to Tory strategy this election campaign has been the bid for "red wall" seats, constituencies which appear conservative economically and demographically but have historically supported Labour.

Winning over voters in northern Labour heartlands could secure the Conservatives their coveted parliamentary majority.

However, mistrust of Tories in many of these targeted areas is long-standing and deeply entrenched. Some communities still blame Margaret Thatcher for inflicting decades of bitter economic decline through her policies in the 1980s.

In the last election, the Tories flipped seats in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, which turned blue for the first time in 25 years.

The seats to watch are between the Vale of Clywd in northern Wales, through Merseyside to Great Grimsby in Humberside. The ridge touches 50 constituencies the Tories hope to win.

In the West Midlands, Mr Johnson needs just 22 votes to win Dudley North. The Labour majority in Crewe and Nantwich in the north-west is only 48 votes; Stockton South in the north-east requires 888 votes to change hands - seats which voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.

Read more analysis from Sebastian Payne and Chris Tighe

The TV battle on election night

Philip Georgiadis writes:

For the first time since 1979, the nation will watch the election results roll in without the reassuring presence of David Dimbleby.

After 40 years of service, the BBC has replaced its veteran political anchor with Huw Edwards for this evening’s overnight coverage, alongside ferocious interviewer Andrew Neil and Jeremy Vine.

The corporation will be hoping to end an often-testing campaign on a high, after the prime minister ducked a set-piece interview with Mr Neil and went on to question the public service broadcaster’s funding model.

Sky News has lured loquacious former speaker John Bercow on to its set, while over on ITV, former political foes George Osborne and Ed Balls will reprise their disconcertingly watchable double act from 2017.

The broadcaster’s lineup also includes Jo Johnson, Boris’s younger brother, who resigned from the cabinet in September in a stunning rebuke to his sibling.

All three channels will broadcast the exit poll at precisely 10pm, which will offer us the first indication of the shape of the night.

Parties pour money into last-minute online adverts

Jemima Kelly and David Blood report:

Labour and the Tories have both staged last-minute advertising blitzes on Facebook and Instagram, outspending the Liberal Democrats on the social media platforms in the final days of the election campaign.

Between midnight on Tuesday and the start of polling day on Thursday morning, Labour spent at least £46,100 on adverts on the two platforms, with the ads garnering at least 4.9m impressions between them, according to Facebook data. The Tories, who had a 10-point lead over Labour before election day according to the FT’s poll of polls, spent at least £41,800, and got at least 2.7m impressions.

The precise spending and impression numbers are not yet available as the totals available from Facebook’s Ad Library report are subject to a lag of several days. But according to more up-to-date data available directly from the Ad Library, Labour could have spent as much as £215,000 against up to £89,000 by the Tories in the 36 hours to Thursday morning.

All the big parties now recognise the online world as a key battleground when it comes to fighting an election and have spent well over £2m combined on ads on Facebook and Instagram since early November.

Read the full story.

Seats to watch: Can the Tories hold in Scotland?

In the last election the Conservatives achieved their best performance in Scotland since 1983. The “blue surge”, propelled by the campaign of former prime minister Theresa May, is something the party’s current leader hopes to emulate.

In 2017, Mrs May’s Tories won 13 seats across the country, where the Scottish National party holds more than half the seats (35), Labour seven, and the Liberal Democrats four.

Scotland’s 59 constituencies include many close marginals, such as Stirling, Lanark and Hamilton East, making the final count difficult to predict

Pollsters YouGov put Scottish support for the Tories at 28-29 per cent this month, up six points from October.

However, the majority of Scots voted in favour of staying in the EU in the 2016 referendum (62 per cent), giving the SNP an opportunity to snatch votes with their promise of a Brexit escape route. The Scottish nationalists led by Nicola Sturgeon also hope to attract pro-Brexit nationalist voters, who are likely to put independence first.

Read more on Scotland’s political battlegrounds here

Sterling down but back above $1.31 level

The pound is down but has regained the $1.31 level in choppy trading ahead of tonight's election results.

The currency is currently down 0.6 per cent on the dollar at $1.3116 and 0.4 per cent against the euro at €1.1802.

Sterling had fallen as low as $1.3053 just after 6.30pm in London.

Thursday's fall has come as traders have also bolstered their protections against a potential drop in the pound over the next week. The premium to buy downside protection compared with upside in the options market rose earlier to the highest level since before the 2016 Brexit referendum.

A warning to markets over the exit poll

FT statistical journalist Andrew Garthwaite reports:

Sterling traders could be at risk of getting ahead of themselves if they respond too aggressively to tonight’s exit poll, which may be less precise than in recent years, leading academics have warned.

Overconfidence in the exit poll, due to be released at 10pm London time, may lead to dramatic fluctuations later in the evening as election results are declared, warned David Firth, the Warwick University statistician who, along with Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University, developed the methodology that has been used for the electoral forecast since 2001.

“Financial markets now move at 10pm to take full account of the exit poll, just as if the exit poll prediction was the actual result of the election,” said Mr Firth, speaking of the forecast derived from outside just 144 ballot boxes across England, Scotland and Wales.

The exit poll’s recent run of prescient results has meant that traders are putting increased stock in its predictive power, with the pound fluctuating more aggressively following the poll’s release from one election to the next.

The magnitude has boomed from a change of 0.1 cents (0.05%) in 2005 to 2.1 cents (1.6%) in 2017, according to analysis conducted on data from foreign exchange broker Forexite.com.

In 2005 and 2010 this drop was minor in value or was corrected before midnight, only to descend again as results were called across the evening confirming the exit poll. Trust in the exit poll has increased, and in the most recent elections the value of the pound against the dollar changed at 10pm without correcting to its original value.

The election this year provides a particularly unusual combination of circumstances, where markedly different political and economic realities could be reflected within the exit poll’s margin of error, explained Sir John.

"This is still an uncertain exercise — it is not a pre-declaration of the actual result, even if it happens, sometimes fortunately, we get very close,” added Jouni Kuha, a statistician at the London School of Economics and member of the exit poll team.

The expected prevalence of tactical voting and the pacts between parties in a limited number of seats are another new source of uncertainty for the exit poll team.

Those 144 [ballot boxes] do not contain very many seats where that is the case, so the information base for learning about the effects of those kind of patterns is a bit limited — so that could be a challenge.

Seats to watch: How will the Lib Dems do in the Remainer south?

The Liberal Democrats’ leader Jo Swinson is focusing on key Remainer seats in the south of England, where she hopes to win over voters put off by the two main parties, Charlotte Middlehurst writes.

One of the Lib Dems' best opportunities will come in Richmond Park, an affluent pro-EU stronghold that has flipped between the party and the Tories in recent elections.

The party is also eyeing a major scalp in foreign secretary Dominic Raab’s seat of Esher and Walton.

The Conservative seats of St Albans and Cheltenham could also fall to the Lib Dems. They are likely to fight bigger battles in Cambridge, where Labour seeks to wrestle a seat; and Eastbourne and Southport, which the Tories are defending.

Read more on the Lib Dems’ southern plans here

John Bercow makes his first appearance

John Bercow, House of Commons Speaker for the past decade, has made his first appearance of the evening on Sky.

Mr Bercow is not a quiet man, but is currently constrained by strict rules on what can be broadcast before polls close at 10pm. So he had to content himself with effusive praise for his employers for the evening, and a word on the exit poll:

“Although politicians don’t always like to hear the exit poll, on four out of the last five occasions it has been accurate in its basic thrust.”

Update at 21.30: Mr Bercow has shouted 'Order!' on set for the first time.

How does the exit poll work?

The exit poll, released by TV broadcasters at 10pm on the dot, is the major set-piece event of the evening.

Andrew Garthwaite, an FT statistical journalist, has compiled a guide on what to expect:

The designers of the exit poll credit its repeated success with the access the field workers have to information: they are asking voters who have already made a decision to tell them what they have just done.

“In three of the last four general elections, we’ve got the number of seats for the biggest party within four seats”, Roger Mortimore, Ipsos Mori director of political analysis, told the King's College Governance podcast, explaining that this represents a 14-year run of good luck for a team that expects a margin of error of about 16 seats for the largest party.

The method used to run the exit poll is very different from regular national voting-intention polls. It is conducted in person by staff from the pollster Ipsos Mori, who will ask a sample of around 40,000 voters leaving 144 carefully selected polling stations to repeat the voting process with near-identical ballot papers, and even to drop them into mock ballot boxes.

A team of academics use returns from these mock ballot boxes to calculate the likely outcome of the election. This is done in great secrecy, because revealing the result before polls close is a criminal offence.

A carefully worded projection is given to the three broadcasters who commission the exit poll in sealed envelopes to be opened only after 10pm.

The specific wording of the announcement is a product of the uncertainty in the exit poll team’s analysis.

John Curtice, president of the British Polling Council, said:

At the centre of the argument, should there be a Conservative majority of 340, is do we say ‘The Conservatives are the largest party’ or say instead ‘There is a Conservative majority’, which will be about the margin of error covering 362 seats or not.

The figures reported at 10pm are updated only once, after the last returns from the sample polling stations are added to the mathematical model.

Where’s the winning line?

To win an overall majority, a party simply needs to have one more seat than all the others put together.

Voters will elect 650 MPs to the House of Commons, so the magic number is 326 in theory.

But MPs from Sinn Féin traditionally do not take up their seats in the Commons, meaning that the figure for an effective majority is in fact elastic. It will depend on how things pan out in the Northern Irish results.

The Speaker, Labour’s Lindsay Hoyle, is a neutral figure and will not count towards majority calculations. But this is balanced out by the practice of electing one deputy from the same side as the Speaker, and two deputies from the opposing party. 

Exit poll imminent

We are moments away from the exit poll.

It should give us an accurate projection of the shape of the evening, but it is not the final say.

The margin of error is around 16 seats, although it has been a lot more accurate than that in recent years. You have to go back to 1992 for a howler, when an older methodology missed John Major’s majority.

Sterling jumps after exit poll

The pound shot up to its highest level since June 2018 against the dollar following the exit poll as traders were reassured by the prospect of a Tory majority.

Having been sitting at $1.317 immediately before the exit poll was released, it jumped to $1.340. That is a rise of 2.2 per cent, marking its biggest one-day rise since January 2017.

Against the euro it rose from €1.184 to €1.202. That is the highest since December 2016.

FT instant insight: A vindication of Johnson's gamble

The FT's UK political commentator Robert Shrimsley writes:

If this exit poll is anywhere close to correct it is not only a triumphant vindication of Boris Johnson's election gamble, it is a cataclysmic result for Labour.

It would be its worst result since the 1930s, the party having been torn apart in 1931 when its leader went into a National Government with the Conservatives. To fall below 200 MPs is a shocking result, a damning indictment of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.

The result will mean that Brexit will happen in the next few weeks. By January 31 the UK will have left the EU.

The exit poll also points to a nationalist surge in Scotland with the Scottish National party taking 55 of the 59 seats. Again, if it is correct, the combination of a nationalist surge and the Tory government driving through Brexit are going to ratchet up the pressure for a new independence referendum.

Exit pollster: A 'remarkable' result

The exit poll predicts a Tory majority of 86, well outside its margin of error. It would be the Conservative party's largest majority since under Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

Professor Michael Thrasher, who was one of the team crunching the numbers, says it has been "a remarkable day".

He told Sky News:

It has been a remarkable day… the Conservatives have been heading for an overall majority all day long, it is just the number has fluctuated down as more Labour voters turned out to vote later on.

Biggest rise for the pound in nearly 3 years

The exit poll has pushed the pound up by 2.3 per cent against the dollar to $1.347, marking its biggest one-day jump since January 2017.

Throughout the campaign a positive showing for the Conservatives has boosted sterling. The logic is that a comfortable majority for Boris Johnson would allow him to push through his withdrawal bill and end the lingering uncertainty over Brexit.

Exit poll projects Jo Swinson could lose seat

The FT's Nathalie Thomas reports from Bishopbriggs:

In what could be one of the biggest upsets of the night, the exit poll is suggesting Jo Swinson could lose her East Dunbartonshire seat.

Ms Swinson, who was elected the first female leader of the Lib Dems in July, regained the seat at the 2017 general election having previously lost it to the Scottish National party in May 2015.

Going into Thursday's poll, she had a majority of 5,339 over the SNP who had put up a fresh face for this election, Amy Callaghan.

Emoticon
John McDonnell: Brexit, not Corbyn, responsible for dire exit poll

John McDonnell has said if the exit poll is anywhere near accurate, “this will be extremely disappointing for the Labour party".

The shadow chancellor and a key architect of the Corbyn project insisted Brexit, rather than the hard left direction of travel under Jeremy Corbyn, was responsible for the dire projection from the exit poll. He added Labour will "make the appropriate decisions" about Mr Corbyn's future once the full results come through in the morning.

Brexit has dominated everything, we thought other issues could cut through, and there would be a wider debate. From this evidence there clearly wasn’t.

Questioned on Mr Corbyn's leadership repeatedly on the BBC, he said: "I don’t think that was the big issue, the big issue was Brexit. It sounds like people wanted a decision."

The race to be the first to declare

The FT's Chris Tighe is following the race to declare the first result:

Sunderland and Newcastle, barely 15 miles apart, are likely to be first in the UK with results at about 11 pm.

All six of the two cities’ constituencies were firmly held by Labour in 2017 but early results will provide clues to how this general election will unfurl as the night proceeds.

Sunderland delivered the first Leave result in the 2016 referendum, setting the tone for the night. The Brexit party has made sure that this moment is not forgotten; it has an illuminated advert, exhorting voters to support it, on the A19 dual carriageway almost opposite Nissan’s Sunderland car plant, the UK’s biggest single site car producer.

At the Sunderland count the atmosphere was one of sociable anticipation just before the polls closed; hundreds of counting staff , divided into dozens of numbered teams are at their tables, chatting but ready for the off.

Outside the Silksworth leisure centre where the counting for the city’s three constituencies is being held, a 100 sixth formers from St Aidan’s and St Anthony’s schools in the city were poised ready to form a human chain along which the arriving ballot boxes will be passed, and rushed inside.

As this is a winter election, they are wearing longsleeved tops under their white T-shirts emblazoned with Sunderland city council.

Labour 'sorrow' at the exit poll

Labour MPs are reacting to the exit poll, which predicts an absolutely shocking night for the party, even worse than the dark days of the 1980s.

Barry Gardiner, a leadership loyalist who has been a very visible figure throughout the campaign, has said that if the exit poll is proved right then it would be "a devastating result".

He told the BBC:

I don't feel it so much for the Labour party as for all the people in the country who were depending upon a Labour victory - who felt that that offered them hope," he adds. For them I feel huge huge sorrow.

Siobhain McDonagh, who is standing for re-election in Mitcham and Morden, tweeted: "This is one mans fault. His campaign, his manifesto, his leadership. Jeremy Corbyn."

Jess Phillips, a regular critic of Mr Corbyn's leadership, said in a tweet that she was "heartbroken".

Predicted result would allow Johnson to 'drive events'

If the exit poll is correct, Boris Johnson's hand would be considerably strengthened, not only in pushing through Brexit but also in terms of negotiating a trade deal with the EU next year, according to analysts.

Allan Monks at JPMorgan says the 86-seat majority predicted by the exit poll would give Mr Johnson "considerable flexibility ... to push hard in the negotiations concerning the UK’s future relationship with Europe".

Similarly, James Smith of ING notes:

If this exit poll is correct Boris Johnson is on for a solid majority. And when it comes to Brexit that means the UK is likely to leave the EU smoothly at the end of January.

But more importantly it would give the prime minister the breathing space to extend the transition period. That’s the standstill phase where the UK will negotiate its future trade deal with the EU.

Crucially, the predicted result gives Mr Johnson "a large enough majority to drive events", says David Owen, chief European financial economist at Jefferies. He adds:

[The result] will be taken very well by markets. Now the hard work begins.

EU minister says exit poll would bring 'clarification' on Brexit

Mehreen Khan reports from Brussels:

EU27 leaders were locked in a summit room having dinner and discussing climate policy when the exit poll dropped. Boris Johnson was not in attendance.

Amélie de Montchalin, France's European affairs minister, reacted to the initial suggestion of a large Tory majority as a welcoming "clarification" from the UK.

"What's certain tonight is that this clarification seems to have come. The most important with Brexit is not the way we divorce, it's what we build afterwards", she told reporters in Brussels

Elsewhere, Katarina Barley, a centre-left German MEP, said she was "devastated" by the exit poll.

Farage: Brexit party 'took the fight' to Labour

The Brexit party can take a significant amount of credit for Boris Johnson's comfortable majority if the exit polls prove correct, according to Nigel Farage.

Mr Farage said the Brexit party "taking the fight to Labour was important" in creating the anticipated 86-seat majority for the Conservatives.

The Brexit party leader said there would be many examples of seats going Conservative as a result of his party taking votes from Labour supporters that could not bring themselves to vote for the Tories, despite backing Brexit.

What you're going to see tonight are dozens of seats that the Conservatives are either going to win or come very close where they wouldn’t have got close to it if we weren’t there taking thousands of votes.

Mr Farage was looking to put a positive spin on what is set nonetheless to be a disappointing night for the Brexit party, which the exit poll predicts will not win any seats.

He stood by his decision to stand down candidates from Conservative-held seats, insisting that "if we'd stood in every seat in the country it would have been a hung parliament".

FT live election results

Polling stations closed at 10pm and counting is under way in the UK general election. The exit poll, which has been very reliable over the past four general elections, projects a substantial Conservative majority.

We'll be posting the results throughout the evening on our live results page. Here's a look at the key times:

Imminent – First official results are expected to be declared, most likely from the seats in the Sunderland or Newcastle local authorities, which have been first to declare in all general elections since 1992.

Either Houghton and Sunderland South or Newcastle upon Tyne Central are likely to be the first result declared. Both are safe Labour seats, but the vote shares here could provide an early sense of the parties’ performance.

3am – By the early hours of the morning, about half of the results are expected to have been declared and we should have a strong idea of the result. The last declarations, likely from Cornwall, may not arrive until after 10am.

Could investors turn long on the pound?

Geoffrey Yu, head of the UK investment office at UBS, said a decisive Conservative majority could “release pent-up demand” for UK assets.

Speaking to the FT, Mr Yu said if the exit poll proves accurate then markets could begin to price certainty into UK assets and the UK economy. Investors cut their short positions on the pound throughout the campaign, but were still net short the currency going into the election.

“Is this enough to get the market long sterling and the market overweight the UK? Does this release pent up demand for the UK?”

Mr Yu added that the size of any majority for Boris Johnson matters, because it would leave him less beholden to the party’s hardcore Eurosceptics when negotiating a future trade deal with the EU.

“The next phase will fall squarely into whether this majority can give Boris Johnson more flexibility.” A majority of about 80, as indicated by the exit poll, “feels like it is enough, that is what the market is leaning towards right now”, he said.

Raab: Conservatives had been 'pretty confident' of strong result

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said the Tories had "felt pretty confident" throughout the campaign that they would win, based on the feedback they had been receiving.

He said "quiet moments with swing voters on the doorsteps" had been positive and proved a better indicator than the "media theatre".

Speaking on Sky News just now, he said:

Having an alliance between the aspirational working and middle classes is the glue that I think shapes Tory victories in election campaigns ... What’s really important for the Conservatives is to make sure we cement that alliance and deliver.

Mr Raab also said he was not worried about retaining his own seat, which had been a Liberal Democrat target, but which the exit poll implies he should hold on to. He declined to say whether he had received any reassurance from the prime minister about retaining his position in any cabinet reshuffle.

I wouldn't dream of preempting or prejudicing the decisions of the boss.

Labour holds Newcastle Central and Houghton and Sunderland South

Results have begun to trickle in, with Labour holding on to Newcastle Central and Houghton and Sunderland South.

In Newcastle Central, the first constituency to declare, Chi Onwurah won with a majority of 12,278.

In Houghton and Sunderland South, Bridget Phillipson won with a majority of 3,115.

Emoticon Conservatives win Blyth Valley for first time ever

In the first big upset of the night, the Tories have taken Blyth Valley from Labour.

It is a former mining town that had been held by Labour since its establishment as a seat in the 1950s.

The Conservatives' Ian Levy took the seat with a majority of just 712.

Former Commons Speaker John Bercow said the result was "catastrophic" for Labour.

EU welcomes prospect of sweeping Johnson victory

Sam Fleming and Jim Brunsden report from Brussels:

The prospect of a sweeping victory by Boris Johnson prompted a wave of relief in Brussels in the early hours of Friday, as senior EU politicians and officials welcomed the prospect of an end to the indecision and delay that has characterised the UK’s approach to the Brexit talks.

While reaffirming their regret over the UK’s likely departure, ministers meeting in Brussels said exit polls pointing to a landslide victory should not only herald the passage of Britain’s exit treaty by Westminster, but also produce a government that is a more decisive negotiating partner.

“France’s position for months has been a request for clarity...that it was necessary to reduce the period of uncertainty for French citizens, for Europeans, for the British,” Amélie de Montchalin, France’s Europe minister, said. “This clarification appears to have arrived.”

Hans Dahlgren, Sweden’s EU affairs minister, said his country welcomed the certainty brought by the apparent result, even if it would miss the UK’s presence in the union. “As a principle it is always good to have a strong counterpart, because after all it makes it easier to have a good and forceful negotiation that will end in a result that is agreeable to both sides,” he told the FT.

EU27 leaders digested the UK exit poll as they were sitting down to dinner of langoustines and chicken at a scheduled summit in Brussels.

The predicted outcome spells the end of an era in which the EU has been by turns baffled and frustrated at Britain’s inability to make up its mind and coalesce around a position on Brexit. The bloc negotiated an exit treaty with Theresa May that was defeated in the House of Commons three times, before hammering out a revised deal with Mr Johnson in a matter of weeks.

Exit poll broadly being proved accurate – Curtice

The early declarations from the north of England, including the remarkable Tory gain of Blyth Valley, are in line with the exit poll, according to John Curtice, president of the British Polling Council.

Sir John said the exit poll forecast the Conservatives would take Blyth Valley, and that support would drop sharply for Labour in Houghton and Sunderland South.

“It looks at least the broad picture at least of the exit poll may well be right,” he told the BBC.

However Sir John cautioned that once results from the south and more Remain-backing parts of the country come in then it would be much harder for the Tories to repeat the “spectacular advances” they are on course for in the north.

He added that the confidence for the projections in Scotland is lower than for the rest of the country. The SNP is forecast to pick up 55 seats.

Sterling on track for historic rally

Peter Wells reports from New York:

The British pound was lining up for one of its biggest one-day moves on record after exit polls indicated Boris Johnson and his Conservative party would win the UK general election comfortably, paving the way for Britain's departure from the EU.

Sterling rose as much as 2.7 per cent to $1.3514 during Asian trading on Friday morning local time. If held, that would rank as its 15th biggest one-day rise, according to daily Bloomberg data since 1971.

This would also be its biggest one-day rise since January 17 2017 when then prime minister Theresa May laid out her plans for Brexit.

FT Analysis: Dramatic win for Tories in Blyth

Chris Tighe, the FT's north-east England correspondent, reports:

The Conservatives' capture of Blyth Valley in Northumberland is an extraordinary success for the party in a seat which has many of the economic and social problems of former mining and coastal communities, alongside large areas of commuter housing.

The retirement of Labour veteran Ronnie Campbell, himself a former miner, created a chance for the Tories, who made Blyth a focus of intensive campaigning to support their candidate, local man Ian Levy, who won with a 712 vote majority.

As the seat adjacent to the Wansbeck constituency of Ian Lavery, Labour party chairman, this loss strikes near to the heart of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour.

Currencies market sees triple the usual flows

Trading in the currencies market has been ferocious today, with triple the amount of usual bets on the pound, according to Deutsche Bank’s head of foreign exchange.

"At 10pm it seemed like daytime with lots of client activity and liquidity," Russell Lascala told the FT.

The pound has risen more than 2 per cent following the exit poll forecasting a sizeable majority for Boris Johnson.

“Normal daily volume we estimate is $8-10bn in cable, today is already at $30bn as of 11 pm," he said.

Liquidity is about the amount of market participants. At 10pm UK time it seemed like daytime with lots of client activity and liquidity. Market participant were trading from all parts of the world. Clients were in active in Sydney, New York, Singapore and obviously London.

He said the significant repricing in sterling was slightly outside the range of what was expected, given the size of the exit poll projection.

We have moved almost 4 per cent from the lows to 1.35. It feels like that is the right area to be for now. All signs are the UK government will have some certainty and assets will return to the UK. I think that is generally why sterling is reacting the way it did.

Caution over prediction of SNP sweeping Scotland

The exit poll predicted the Scottish National party is on course to win 55 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the UK parliament, which would be similar to their 2015 success.

That raises the prospect of a heightened constitutional stand-off with Westminster that could strain the already frayed unity of the UK, writes the FT's Scotland correspondent Mure Dickie.

But John Curtice of Strathclyde University, who helped develop the methodology used for the exit poll, said he would not be surprised if it overstated the scale of SNP gains.

He told the BBC:

The SNP figure for Scotland is the bit about the exit poll about which frankly we are least confident

Sir John noted that there were relatively few sampling points north of the English border and that viewers should focus more on the poll's “rough overall picture” of "significant" SNP gains.

It looks as if SNP vote is up and the unionist parties potentially at risk.

For more on this, check out Mure's piece here

Early results bode ill for Labour

Labour's Bridget Phillipson, who won the Houghton and Sunderland South constituency in 2017 with a majority of 12,341, saw her majority cut to 3,115 in a result that bodes ill for Labour tonight, writes the FT's Chris Tighe who is at the count.

Welcoming the result Ms Phillipson said the exit poll, if correct, would be a "crushing disappointment" for everyone who had worked hard for a Labour government.

"It will be a disastrous blow for those in our country who desperately need a Labour government," she said.

All three Sunderland constituencies were held by Labour in 2017 with majorities of between 9,997 and 12,940, even though in the 2016 referendum the proportion of Sunderland Leave voters was 61.3 per cent. But since the last general election, Labour has battled to come up with a consistent clear message on Brexit, frustrating many Leave voters.

Ms Phillipson has been a vocal supporter of the People's Vote campaign, voicing her fears that a no-deal Brexit in particular would have a potentially disastrous impact on Sunderland, where Nissan employs about 6000 people directly and up to three times as many jobs depend indirectly on its manufacturing plant, the UK's biggest single carmaking site.

Labour holds Sunderland Central but majority slides

Labour's Julie Elliott has held on to Sunderland Central with a majority of 2,964.

However, that is a decline of 12 percentage points for Labour, which took 42 per cent of the vote in the seat.

While the Conservatives gained just 2 points, the Brexit party added 12 points, indicating there may be something to what Nigel Farage said earlier this evening when he suggested his party could take votes from Labour supporters who could not bring themselves to vote for the Tories, despite backing Brexit.

He told the BBC earlier:

What you're going to see tonight are dozens of seats that the Conservatives are either going to win or come very close where they wouldn’t have got close to it if we weren’t there taking thousands of votes.

Ms Elliott launched a stinging attack in her acceptance speech on the direction in which the Labour party had moved.

Big names in trouble?

The early results are showing dramatic swings away from the Labour party in its northern heartlands, which if mirrored nationally could lead to some shocks throughout the evening.

Look out for the result from Sedgefield, Tony Blair’s old seat, and even North West Durham – which is held by Laura Pidcock, who is seen as a candidate to replace Jeremy Corbyn.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson could also be in trouble up in Dunbartonshire East, where the Scottish National party would need 10 percentage points to take the seat. It is worth noting that the exit poll team is least confident about its projections for Scotland.

Labour's Elliott blasts own party for 'letting this country down'

Chris Tighe, the FT's north-east England correspondent, writes:

Labour's Julie Elliott lashed out at her party as she took Sunderland Central with a significantly reduced majority.

She won the seat with a majority of 2,964, down from 9,997 in 2017.

As in Houghton and Sunderland South, the Conservative vote did not increase by very much; the Greens and Liberal Democrats increased their votes. The Brexit party, which did not stand in 2017, won 5,047 votes, while Ukip, which won 2,209 in 2017, did not stand.

In her speech Ms Elliott said the exit poll suggested a disastrous evening for the Labour party.

The party I have been a member of for 35 years has let this country down by not being good enough to win against this awful Tory government.

People on the door steps had told her they were not voting Labour this time but would return. "They would come back to us if we became a radical party for change from the centre left ground which is where we win elections."

Tories hold Swindon North

The Conservatives’ Justin Tomlinson has retained Swindon North with an increased majority of 16,171.

Notably, the pattern mirrors earlier results with the Labour vote going into decline. The Tory vote was up 6 percentage points, while Labour’s fell 9 points.

That means seven constituencies have now declared:

• Labour have held Newcastle Central, Houghton and Sunderland South, Sunderland Central, Newcastle East and Middlesbrough.

• The Conservatives have held Swindon North.

• Labour have lost Blyth Valley to the Conservatives.

Has the pound’s reaction to a Tory majority gone too far?

Sterling’s surge following tonight’s exit poll means the currency is now closing in on the levels it held before the 2016 referendum, according to Paul Meggyesi, head of global FX strategy at JPMorgan.

He calculates that the currency’s strength relative to those of the UK’s trading partners is just 2.3 per cent below the average in the three years before the referendum -- while the economy is 2.5 to 3 percentage points smaller than it would have been if the UK had voted to remain.

Mr Meggyesi said:

What this means is that the level of the exchange rate now virtually disregards the damage which Brexit has so far caused to the economy, let alone the possibility of any incremental damage from the delivery of a Brexit with still uncertain prospects for a future trade deal. It seems to us that the market is in danger of conflating the removal of political uncertainty with the reversal of the economic impact of Brexit. That strikes us as being highly optimistic verging on the implausible.

George Osborne: The Conservative party is going to change

George Osborne, Tory chancellor from 2010 to 2016, expects his former party to be realigned by the influx of MPs representing working class communities that are expected to be returned.

He said the party’s former instincts towards a small state, low-regulation, low-tax country would be “going into the deep freeze”.

“The nature of the party is going to change, and the demands of the leader from those constituencies is going to be strong.”

Craig Oliver, who was in Downing Street at the same time as Mr Osborne as David Cameron's head of communications, said:

High turnout in Jo Swinson’s constituency

Nathalie Thomas reports from Bishopbriggs:

The voter turnout in Jo Swinson’s constituency of East Dunbartonshire, to the north of Glasgow, is high, at 80.38 per cent.

The feeling on the ground here is it is so far looking very tight for Ms Swinson whose main challenger is 27-year-old Amy Callaghan of the Scottish National party, who had been working for a local SNP MSP.

She’s a fresh face for the SNP in East Dunbartonshire. Ms Swinson in 2017 triumphed over John Nicolson to whom she had lost the same seat in 2015.

EU 'all set' to push ahead with Brexit talks

Mehreen Khan reports from Brussels:

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU is "all set" for whatever happens in the UK.

EU27 leaders will meet Michel Barnier in Brussels to adopt a set of conclusions about the next stage of Brexit talks.

"We're ready to negotiate whatever is necessary," said Mrs von der Leyen.

Narrative of Labour decline holding across Sunderland

Chris Tighe writes:

Labour's Sharon Hodgson held Washington and Sunderland West, the constituency which includes Nissan's car plant, but her majority was slashed from 12,940 to 3,723.

As in the other Sunderland seats, the Greens and Liberal Democrats increased their votes quite substantially, while the Tories were slightly up and Ukip declined.

The Brexit party, which did not stand in 2017, picked up 5,439 votes, again suggesting it was taking share from Labour.

In her acceptance speech Mrs Hodgson said she would return to parliament next week "to hold the most rightwing government of our time to account".

Signs of yet more trouble for Labour in the north

Steven Swinford, the deputy political editor of the Times, is one of several to report that the Labour held seat of Wansbeck in Northumberland has gone to a recount.

That is held by Labour chairman Ian Lavery, who won a majority of more than 10,000 in 2017.

In what would be an even greater upset, ITV reports that Labour believes it has "definitely" lost Redcar, where it held a more than 20 percentage point lead over the Tories.

FT Opinion: Brexit will now happen but future of the UK is in doubt

'Do you want the good news or the bad news?', asks the FT's Robert Shrimsley.

The good news is that three years of political paralysis is over. The Brexit path is now, for good or ill, clear; the UK has turned its back on hardline socialism and the country will at last have a stable government with a working majority.

The bad news is that the country is about to discover that it takes more than a vote at an election to “get Brexit done”; that Boris Johnson is going to be unfettered in the next stage of the EU negotiations and that a huge nationalist surge in Scotland almost certainly heralds another independence referendum. Even in the midst of their jubilation, the Conservatives may fear that while they secured Brexit, they may lose the UK.

Brexit is now a reality. There will be no second referendum. Mr Johnson’s “get Brexit done” slogan may have been misleading in its implication that the hard part was over, but the result does end debate over whether it will happen.

Nonetheless, for all the hope in Tory circles that securing an exit EU from the EU allows politics to return to normality, the next few years will be dominated by the next stage of Brexit and the fight to keep Scotland in the Union.

For more on this, check out Robert's full column here

Emoticon Conservatives win Workington

The Tories have won in Workington, an iconic moment in the campaign and another brick out of Labour's red wall.

"Workington man" became a shorthand for the type of voter that Boris Johnson's campaign was targeting: working-class, older, white men who supported leaving the EU.

The Tories won the seat easily, with a majority of more than 4,000.

A few moments ago we reported that Ian Lavery, Labour chairman, could be in trouble in Wansbeck. He has held his seat after it went to a recount.

Watch: Labour’s Johnson tells Momentum to ‘go back to student politics’

Former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson has launched a passionate attack on the party’s leftwing campaign group Momentum.

Speaking alongside Momentum founder Jon Lansman on ITV, Mr Johnson slammed the influence of the group which helped put Jeremy Corbyn into office four years ago, and has defended their leader against internal coups.

“I want them out the party. I want Momentum gone. Go back to your student politics.”

The exchange has been the standout moment of the TV shows so far this evening, here it is:

SNP gains Rutherglen and Hamilton West

The first seat north of the border has now been declared with Rutherglen and Hamilton West falling out of Labour hands in favour of the Scottish National party.

But it is not all good news for the SNP. The margin is significantly lower than the exit poll had predicted.

The SNP was predicted to take Rutherglen and Hamilton West easily with a 13 point vote increase as it swept Scotland, taking 55 of the 59 available seats.

In reality the party's share rose 7 points, which John Curtice, president of the British Polling Council, said indicates the gains suggested by the exit poll may have been exaggerated.

Dublin pleased by anticipated clarity of result

Sam Fleming reports from Brussels:

What mattered for Ireland was to see a decisive outcome in the UK election, Helen McEntee, Ireland's EU affairs minister, has told the FT.

A hung parliament would have meant months more uncertainty and stalling, whereas the UK election results give Dublin clarity, she said.

For all the talk of getting Brexit done, however, the next phase of negotiations, over the future relationship between the UK and EU, was equally as challenging as the divorce negotiations, she warned.

This was especially the case if there was no extension and the transition period terminates at the end of 2020.

“We have to be realistic about the timescale,” she said. “To have something done in less than a year is very challenging.”

Emoticon Tories win the Vale of Clwyd

We are beginning to get into a rush of results now, and the "red wall" continues to crumble. The Tories have their first gain in Wales of the evening as they take the Vale of Clwyd from Labour.

Sebastian Payne reported from the seat during the campaign. He wrote:

The Vale of Clwyd constituency is typical of the seats Mr Johnson will campaign in over the next five weeks. It is Labour-held, Brexity, and the prevailing atmosphere suggests that its best days are long over.

One seat that Labour managed to hold earlier on is Jarrow, but the swing against the party was dramatic, nearly 20 percentage points.

Emoticon Labour wins Putney

Some good news from Labour in London, with the party winning Putney from the Conservative party.

The seat is in an affluent part of south-west London and voted strongly to Remain in the 2016 EU referendum.

It is indicative of a potential fissure running through the country, with the Tories in serious trouble in Remain-backing urban areas but cleaning up in the former Labour heartlands.

Labour chairman Lavery: 'You cannot ignore democracy'

The chairman of the Labour party Ian Lavery said the anticipated dire result for Labour is the result of "ignoring democracy" and should not be blamed on the party leader.

Mr Lavery defended Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour party and his "radical manifesto" but said people had punished the party for suggesting a second referendum on Brexit.

I think what we are seeing in some of the Labour heartlands is people very aggrieved at the fact that the party basically has taken a stance on Brexit the way they have.

Labour ran on a platform of renegotiating the UK's withdrawal from the EU and putting the deal back to the public in a fresh vote, with the option to Remain on the ballot.

But Mr Lavery said said people in the north of England were angry that Brexit had not yet been completed and see Labour as a pro-Remain party.

"People are suggesting quite rightly: Why should there be a second referendum when they had a referendum in 2016?," he said.

17.4m people voting for Brexit and being ignored is not a good recipe. And I think democracy prevails. Ignore democracy and I think the consequences will come back and bite you in the backside.

A dispatch from Boris Johnson's constituency

Robert Wright reports from Uxbridge:

No results are expected until at least 4am at Brunel University in west London, which is handling the count for two of the UK's highest-profile politicians - Boris Johnson, the prime minister, and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor.

Mr McDonnell arrived at the count at 2.10am but did not immediately speak to reporters. Mr Johnson had not arrived by that time.

However, the national result looked to have killed off the already distant prospect that Ali Milani, the Labour candidate in Mr Johnson's Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, would achieve a historic upset by overturning the 5,034 majority that Mr Johnson won over Labour at the last general election in 2017.

Nevertheless, the cast of novelty candidates traditional in UK prime ministers' constituencies was in evidence. Both the Official Monster Raving Loony Party's Lord Buckethead, an independent candidate running under the name Count Binface and another independent running under the name Bobby "Elmo" Smith and dressed as the character from television's Sesame Street were all at the counting venue early.

Alliance party takes North Down in blow to DUP

Arthur Beesley reports from Belfast :

The first Northern Ireland seat has gone to Stephen Farry of the cross-community Alliance party in North Down, on a bad night for the Democratic Unionists who have seen their Westminster leverage disappear as Boris Johnson coasts to victory.

Mr Farry, deputy leader of the pro-Remain Alliance, has won the seat vacated by the retiring Independent Unionist MP Lady Sylvia Hermon with a majority close to 3,000. His victory marks a setback for the DUP, whose candidate Alex Easton was widely tipped to succeed Ms Hermon and came within 1,209 votes of the outgoing MP in 2017.

The pro-Brexit DUP had an outsized influence in the House of Commons after the 2017 election when the party struck a deal for its 10 MPs to prop up the minority Conservative government. With Mr Johnson on track to win a big majority the Tories will no longer need the DUP, whose votes against the prime minister’s new Brexit treaty and the previous one agreed by Theresa May were crucial to their defeat.

The DUP set its sights on North Down as a potential gain with informal vote tallies suggesting the key Belfast North seat held by Nigel Dodds at risk of falling to the Irish nationalist Sinn Féin party. Emma Little-Pengelly’s DUP seat in Belfast South is also in danger of falling to the nationalist Social Democratic and party.

Alliance has been on a roll this year as the party, which describes itself as neither unionist nor nationalist, made gains in local and European elections.

Tories win Leigh

Another double-digit swing from Labour to the Conservatives, who have won Leigh for the first time ever. These are massive majorities we are seeing tumble, more than 9,500 in this instance.

The seat used to be held by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, and saw about 63 per cent vote to leave the EU in 2016. Back in the Blair era, Labour won 69 per cent of the vote in 1997.

You can keep up to date with the latest results and the state of the parties on our dedicated results page.

Alastair Campbell: Hard left is 'delusional'

The night is quickly morphing into a thorough post-mortem into Labour’s catastrophic showing, with many centrist figures furiously blaming the party’s shift to the left under Jeremy Corbyn.

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s spin doctor, said the party’s decent showing in 2017 camouflaged problems with the Corbyn brand and politics. Addressing the party's hard left, he said:

They are delusional if they think the public are going to support their politics. If Boris Johnson runs the full term, it will have been 50 years since any Labour leader other than Tony Blair won a general election. Can they let that sink into their heads and possibly start to reroute their politics to where people live their lives.

FTSE 100 futures fall after jump in sterling

Tommy Stubbington, FT capital markets reporter, writes:

FTSE 100 futures are down 0.4 per cent in early Asian trading, in the first indication of how stock market investors are reacting to the prospect of a Tory majority.

The decline is most likely a reflection of sterling's surge tonight: companies in London's blue-chip benchmark earn a majority of their revenues overseas, so a stronger currency tends to harm their performance.

The FTSE 250 index of mid-sized companies, with its greater focus on the domestic economy, is likely to fare better.

Health warnings apply to moves in thinly traded futures — they don't necessarily mean markets will follow the same path when trading begins on the London Stock exchange at 8am.

What to watch over the next hour

The FT's data editor Martin Stabe looks ahead to the key 3am hour, when a flood of results is expected:

Around 39 close races are expected to be declared.

Most are Labour-held seats that the Conservatives will be looking to gain. Look out for High Peak in the East Midlands and Tony Blair’s former Sedgefield seat in the north-east.

In Scotland, look for close fights with the Scottish National party over Aberdeen South; Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock; East Renfrewshire; and Ochil and South Perthshire.

The Liberal Democrats look likely to take Sheffield Hallam back from Labour, but face uphill battles to hold Eastbourne from the Conservatives, and gain Cambridge from Labour.

Most of the marginal seats in Northern Ireland will also be declared around this time. In the urban seats, the Democratic Unionist party faces challenges from three directions: the Alliance party in East Belfast, Sinn Féin in North Belfast and the SDLP in South Belfast. In Foyle and South Down, Sinn Féin faces a close race with the SDLP, while the DUP faces the UUP in South Antrim. In all three, the more moderate parties look to make gains.

Sterling rally ‘should have legs’

Neil Jones, head of foreign exchange sales for financial institutions at Mizuho Bank, said the rally in sterling “should have legs” if a Boris Johnson government can bring political and economic stability.

The pound has risen nearly 2.5 per cent since the exit poll and is touching $1.35. It is now 13 per cent higher since its early September lows when Mr Johnson was threatening a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Jones said major longer-term investors who have largely shunned UK assets over the past few years due to the political uncertainty over Brexit could be tempted back.

Longer term investors had been standing aside waiting for some political certainty and a backdrop they can feel more comfortable about looking ahead. Once it starts to move in, that money stays there a number of years.

Emoticon Chuka Umunna loses bid in London

Chuka Umunna, one of the most high-profile defectors to the Liberal Democrats, has lost in his bid to be elected in the Cities of London and Westminster.

Mr Umunna left the Labour party to help set up Change UK earlier this year, and after a brief stint as an independent moved over to the Lib Dems.

In his decision to leave Labour in protest of the direction of the party under Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Umunna gave up an ultra-safe seat in south London. Mr Umunna was once a rising star in the party, and a short-lived leadership contender in 2015.

Several other high-profile defectors to the Lib Dems are also standing in seats which would require a huge swing, including former Tory Sam Gyimah in Kensington.

Labour loses former stronghold Bishop Auckland

Chris Tighe reports:

Labour has lost Bishop Auckland, a County Durham seat it has held since 1935, with the Conservatives winning with a majority of 7,962.

Helen Goodman, who had been the seat's Labour MP since 2005, won in 2017 with 502 votes, making it the party's most marginal north-east seat but the scale of defeat was still massive.

Dehenna Davison, the Conservative candidate , won Bishop Auckland with 24,067 votes while Labour polled 16,105.

In her speech after the declaration, Ms Goodman said: "The Labour party isn't going to win until it has a leader that commands the trust and confidence of the British people."

While congratulating the Tory victor she said: "I have never known such a mendacious and deceitful Tory campaign."

She added:

The big lie is that the British people can have the international status of the 1950s and the standard of living of the twenty first century.

She said that by raising expectations so high the Tories risk a further collapse of public trust.

DUP's Dodds loses in North Belfast

In a crucial upset in Northern Ireland, the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist party's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds has lost his seat in North Belfast.

Mr Dodds became a key figure in the House of Commons after the results of the last election left Theresa May’s government reliant on DUP support.

But tonight Sinn Féin’s John Finucane took the seat with a majority of 1,943. His chances were boosted by the Social Democratic and Labour party standing down in the constituency in a pro-Remain alliance that sought to oust the DUP.

Former House of Commons Speaker John Bercow described Mr Dodd’s loss as “the biggest scalp of the night” and said it showed strong hostility to the DUP’s position on Brexit.

An update on Labour's rapidly crumbling 'red wall'

An update on Labour’s red wall which once stretched from north Wales across the north of England but lies in tatters.

The party has lost seats including Redcar, where the Tories overturned a majority of 22.3 per cent to defeat Anna Turley.

Other seats to fall have included Scunthorpe, Burnley and Bishop Auckland. Parts of the Black Country have also turned blue, with two out of the three seats in Wolverhampton showing Conservative gains from Labour.

So far, Labour has lost 23 seats compared with the 2017 election.

Lib Dems win Richmond Park as Zac Goldsmith loses seat

The Liberal Democrats have unseated prominent Eurosceptic Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park as they take the seat back from the Conservative party.

This result, in an affluent Remain-backing stronghold, was no great surprise but the size of the swing, 12 percentage points from Tory to Lib Dem, could bode well for the smaller party in other parts of London.

Nomura: Don't fight the sterling rally

Tommy Stubbington reports:

Don't fight the sterling move, says Nomura currency strategist Jordan Rochester.

The pound is set for a "continued grind higher" as investors unwind the hedges they had in place to protect against a possible Corbyn victory. Meanwhile, many currency investors who had short positions heading into the election may throw in the towel and buy sterling, Mr Rochester said.

"It’s hard to be short given Corbyn/Brexit hedges will be unwound, there is a weaker US dollar move taking place and next year’s trade talks are a while away."

Emoticon

Labour leader Corbyn will not lead party in next election

Jeremy Corbyn has said he will not lead Labour in any future election as the scale of the party's defeat was laid bare early on Friday.

In the Labour leader's first remarks on Friday morning, Mr Corbyn said he would stay on for the time being to lead the party through an analysis of the party's defeat.

“This is obviously a very disappointing night for the Labour party with the result we’ve got," he said.

He said Labour’s core policies were “extremely popular” during the election campaign. “However Brexit has so polarised and divided debate within this country. It has overwritten so much of normal political debate … And I recognise that has contributed to the result of the party this evening all over the country.”

Starmer the frontrunner to take over Labour leadership

Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, is odds-on to take the reins of the Labour party from Jeremy Corbyn.

Sir Keir has odds of 13/5 to take over from Mr Corbyn, according to Betfair, followed by Rebecca Long-Bailey on 9/2 and Angela Rayner on 8/1.

Mr Corbyn said moments ago he would not lead Labour into another election, but would remain as party leader for a period during a "process of reflection".

John McDonnell blames Brexit for Labour's performance

Robert Wright reports:

Speaking after being returned as MP for his Hayes and Harlington seat with a reduced majority, John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, the Labour party's second most powerful figure, acknowledged the scale of the defeat but insisted, like other senior Labour figures, that the result did not reflect a rejection of Labour's policies.

"Clearly, this was a result of a decision that many people took on the issue of Brexit and clearly it was the Brexit issue that dominated this issue," Mr McDonnell told an often-rowdy crowd at his election count in Uxbridge, where votes in Boris Johnson's constituency were also being counted.

"Tonight's results are clearly extremely disappointing for the Labour party and I know there will be many of our supporters and our members who will be heartbroken by what has happened today," Mr McDonnell said.

Mr McDonnell's address was disrupted by a scuffle in the crowd involving people who had been shouting abuse at Mr McDonnell, calling him a terrorist sympathiser.

Quoting Joe Hill, the US 20th-century trade unionist, Mr McDonnell said: "Now is not the time to mourn; now is the time to organise. That's exactly what we will now do."

Emoticon Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson loses her seat

Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has lost her seat in East Dunbartonshire to the surging Scottish Nationalist party.

Ms Swinson lost by 149 votes.

Speaking after the result, she said her party will continue to "stand up for hope".

Some will be celebrate the wave of nationalism that is sweeping on both sides of the border… these are very significant results for the future of our country.

For millions of people in our country, these results will bring dread and dismay, and people are looking for hope. I still believe that we as a country can be warm and generous, inclusive and open.

Johnson claims 'powerful new mandate' to complete Brexit

Robert Wright reports from West London:

Boris Johnson hailed the result of the "historic election" after he was returned in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency with an increased majority.

Mr Johnson dashed the hopes of Ali Milani, the Labour candidate, of causing a historic upset by increasing his majority - just 5,034 in 2017 - to 7,202.

The prime minister said he did not want to tempt fate with results still coming in. But he went on:

At this stage, it does look as though this one-nation Conservative government has been given a powerful mandate to get Brexit done.

The party would also fulfill its pledges to fund the National Health Service, Mr Johnson pledged.

He added: :

I want to thank the people of this country for turning out in a December election that we didn't want to call but that I think has turned out to be a historic election that gives us the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people, to change the country for the better and unleash the potential of the entire people of this country. That's what we will now do if we are lucky enough to be returned.

FT Analysis: A bad night for the DUP

Arthur Beesley reports from Belfast:

A huge blow for the Democratic Unionists. Nigel Dodds, Westminster strongman of the party in bitter Brexit rows, has lost his Belfast North seat to John Finucane of Sinn Féin.

The DUP has also lost its Belfast South seat to Claire Hanna of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour party, leaving it in the city holding only the unionist stronghold of Belfast East.

Such gains by the nationalist parties — and a win in north Down for the cross-community Alliance — could mean that unionist MPs do not hold the majority of Northern Ireland’s seats for the first time.

The DUP went into the election with 10 seats of the region’s 18 seats but is now on track to emerge with eight, a bruising result for the pro-Brexit party that rejected two EU withdrawal treaties settled by Boris Johnson and Theresa May. Analysts believe Sinn Féin could take seven seats — one less than in 2017 — with the SDLP likely to take two seats and Alliance one.

The SDLP stood aside in Belfast North to give Mr Finucane a clear run while Sinn Féin did not contest Belfast South to boost the SDLP.

Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, hit out at the pact as she arrived at the count centre saying “the pan-nationalist front has come to fruition again.” Mrs Foster said she was “absolutely disappointed” with the loss of Mr Dodds’ seat, saying “the demography just wasn’t there” to retain the seat.

Mr Dodds was defending a 2,081-vote majority but Mr Finucane, who is lord mayor of Belfast, beat him by 1,943 votes. Mr Finucane said his election was a reflection of the constituency’s rejection of Brexit. “North Belfast is a remain constituency,” he said.

The new MP’s father, Pat Finucane, a lawyer who defended republicans, was murdered by pro-British loyalist paramilitaries in 1989. “I can’t help but think of my father and where we have come from, not just as a family but as a society as well,” Mr Finucane said.

Serious soul-searching for the Lib Dems

Nathalie Thomas reports from Bishopbriggs:

Jo Swinson lost her seat in East Dunbartonshire, to the north of Glasgow, to the Scottish National party's Amy Callaghan, a 27-year-old local activist, who was standing as a candidate for the first time.

Ms Swinson’s seat had been identified by some political commentators as being at risk, although her defeat remains a huge shock to the Liberal Democrats.

SNP activists claimed Ms Swinson had not been present enough in the constituency, but also credited Ms Callaghan’s fearlessness in going up against the Lib Dem leader for their party’s success.

“We had a mountain to climb here,” said one SNP member, trying to sum up the immensity of Ms Callaghan’s victory.

One local Labour activist said: “She [Jo] has hardly set foot in the constituency and the SNP has made full capital out of that.”

It is the second time Ms Swinson has been defeated by the SNP in East Dunbartonshire - she lost her seat in 2015 to the SNP’s John Nicolson before regaining it two years later.

The high profile scalp will lead to serious soul-searching about why Ms Swinson, who was elected the first ever female leader of the Lib Dems in July, failed to strike a chord, particularly with Remainers. She had taken a hardline stance to halt Brexit by revoking the Article 50 exit process.

FT Analysis: Raab hangs on

No silver lining for the Liberal Democrats in Esher and Walton, writes the FT's George Steer.

Currently on course to lose key seats across the country, the party had hoped to take a big scalp by capturing Esher and Walton from Dominic Raab. Monica Harding, the Lib Dem candidate, was left disappointed, however, as the foreign secretary clung on to retain his seat, albeit with a much reduced majority.

“The people of Esher have now spoken,” said Mr Raab. “We can now get Brexit done and unleash the fantastic potential of this country,” he added.

It was, however, a tense evening for the local Conservative party, which saw its majority of more than 23,000 slashed to just 2,743. Esher and Walton voted 58 per cent Remain, and Mr Raab’s hard line on Brexit looks to have come close to costing him his seat.

The last MRP poll, released earlier this week, indicated that there was a good chance Ms Harding might deliver this election’s "Portillo moment" by unseating Mr Raab in a constituency, whose boundaries have been redrawn several times, that last voted for a non-Conservative candidate in 1906.

In the end, though, the Lib Dems fell tantalisingly short. Labour finished a distant third, securing just 2,838 votes.

It is clear, though, that Mr Raab now cuts a divisive figure in his home constituency. Ian Taylor, Esher and Walton’s Conservative MP for 23 years before Mr Raab became the candidate in 2010, chose to endorse the Lib Dem candidate over his successor.

Not that it will matter to Mr Raab this morning. It appears his oft-repeated claim - that a vote for the Lib Dems would constitute a vote for Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister - galvanised enough traditional Conservative voters to get him over the line. Just.

Laura Pidcock loses her seat

In among that flurry of activity from the party leaders, two more significant Labour scalps.

Laura Pidcock, once tipped as a potential successor to Jeremy Corbyn from the left of the party, has lost her seat to the Conservatives in Durham North West.

The new MP Richard Holden overturned a more than 18 per cent majority to take the seat.

Over in Don Valley, Caroline Flint - who campaigned tirelessly to implement the result of the Brexit vote - has also lost her seat on a large swing to the Tories.

Labour poised for worst election swing in quarter century

The FT's Federica Cocco reports:

The Labour party is looking at the biggest swing in 26 years: from a result of 40 per cent in 2017 to an estimated 31.7 per cent so far, a decline of 8.6 percentage points in the share of the vote.

The last time the party experienced such a large fall was in 1983 when Michael Foot's Labour shed 9.3 percentage points in its share of the vote after facing the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher's leadership.

May: 'Clear choice' over Brexit fuelled Tory success

Theresa May, the former prime minister, said the difference between this election and the last one, when she lost her majority, was the "clear choice" offered on Brexit.

Speaking on the BBC just now, Mrs May said:

At this election I think people were faced with a very clear choice about whether or not they wanted to ensure that Brexit was delivered and they knew that if a Conservative majority government got in that we would deliver Brexit.

She added that this election was, for many people, about ensuring the Brexit process could be completed and that they voted accordingly.

Scottish nationalists call for second independence vote

Scottish National party leader Nicola Sturgeon has said her party’s strong showing should pave the way for a second independence referendum.

The party has won 39 seats so far, largely at the expense of the Conservative and Labour parties.

Ms Sturgeon told the BBC that Scotland has sent "a very clear message.”

We don’t want a Conservative Boris Johnson government, we don’t want to leave the EU, and we want Scotland’s future to be in our own hands.

Craig Oliver, communications director for former prime minister David Cameron, said he expected Boris Johnson to “fight it tooth and nail”.

“Will she call an “illegal” #IndyRef2 anyway and try to force his hand?” he asked on Twitter.

Incidentally, Sky News captured Ms Sturgeon’s jubilant response to Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson losing her seat to the SNP.

Tories win Kensington back, Grieve loses seat

The Tories have won back Kensington by only 150 votes, which fell to Labour in one of 2017's most surprising results.

The result also means that Sam Gyimah, a former Tory leadership hopeful who defected to the Lib Dems, became the latest major centrist figure to fail to be re-elected to parliament.

On that note, former Conservative attorney-general Dominic Grieve lost his seat in Beaconsfield, where he was standing as an independent against his own party.

Working class vote key to Tory wins

Ongoing FT analysis of the results finds that the clearest link with the Conservatives’ overnight success was the size of a constituency’s working-class population, John Burn-Murdoch reports.

The higher the share of workers in low-skilled jobs, the better the Tories fared relative to Labour and the Lib Dems.

This statistical link was stronger than the links with numbers of graduates or voting patterns in the 2016 EU referendum.

SDLP take Foyle from Sinn Féin with huge majority

A massive win for the Social Democratic and Labour party in Foyle.

Party leader Colum Eastwood took the seat from rival nationalists Sinn Féin with a majority of 17,110.

Mr Eastwood won 26,881 votes to 9,771 for Sinn Féin's Elisha McCallion.

That is exactly the kind of comeback the SDLP was hoping for after losing the seat by just 169 votes to Sinn Féin in 2017. Foyle was long held by the party under Good Friday Agreement architect and Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume.

Mr Eastwood told the FT earlier this month:

We think we could be back in the game ... When we lost the seat it was a huge blow. We got angry and we also got organised.

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