Britons ignore floods to cast their vote

Turnout reaching as high as 80% across stormy south and balmy north
A woman is reflected in a puddle of rain water as she arrives at a polling station in Chelsea, west London, on Thursday © AFP

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Nigel Farage had promised that his supporters would crawl over broken glass to get Britain out of the EU. In parts of London and the south-east, those on both sides of the debate had to wade through water instead as torrential downpours flooded roads, railways and polling stations.

Nevertheless turnout for the UK’s third ever referendum appeared high — possibly 80 per cent — across the stormy south and balmy north, where temperatures rose above 20 degrees.

Warm enough for army veteran Ernest Gough, 81, to water his plants shirtless beneath the Union Jack that flies in his front yard. “We need to make Britain great again,” the retired window cleaner from Huddersfield said after voting before breakfast. “There are too many immigrants coming here just for the benefits.”

Across working-class communities in the north, fear of immigration trumped fear of economic damage. Mr Moore, who would not give his first name, works for BASF, the German chemical company in Bradford. He had ignored its advice to vote In. “If they close it, they close it. We’re a tiny part of a massive operation. They could do it any day anyhow.”

In working-class areas of the north-east, cuts and the decline in services is determining many votes.

Dave and Gary, two Newcastle City Council workmen, said they had both voted Leave. “Everybody up here is losing their jobs,” said Gary. “The youngsters now growing up; what’s their future?”

Dave said dislike of David Cameron was his main reason for “wanting out”. He said he was angry that Newcastle City Council had had to make £100m cuts, with another £100m to come. He hopes that money not sent to Europe would go into the NHS instead. “Without that there won’t be a health service in 20 years.”

At the Hoppings travelling fair, which is in the city this time of year, views were mixed. Jack, a heavily tattooed ex-sailor, said he would vote Remain. “I’m voting for the poor little buggers who aren’t old enough who would suffer,” he said. “Stick with the winning team,” was his message. Out of Europe, he warned, “we will get poorer”.

In Scotland there was none of the buzz of the 2014 independence referendum. The country was expected to vote decisively to remain. David Parry, a medical researcher from Edinburgh, said he voted to stay partly because of the Leave campaign’s “dodgy facts” and “nasty sentiments”. But he added: “I don’t think either side has particularly covered themselves in glory.”

London was peppered with Remain posters and many polling stations had T-shirted activists outside. “The atmosphere is really positive here,” Louise Barnell, 31, from Hackney, said. “[There are] lots of people who want to remain. Even people who want to vote to remain but can’t [vote] have been wearing stickers.”

In Birstall, West Yorkshire, the library outside which Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death last week is now a polling station. A steady flow of people came to do their democratic duty after an hour-long vigil for her in the market place. About 300 people attended a lunchtime vigil for the Batley & Spen MP. They held hands as they sang “The Lord’s My Shepherd” and “Abide With Me”. It was a rare moment of unity after a fractious campaign.

Additional reporting by Mure Dickie and Michael Pooler

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