It's finally here. After a seemingly endless campaign in which the phrases "take back control" or "everything will be bankrupt and on fire if we leave the EU" have been said at least 17,494,563 times, today ballots are finally being cast. For those anxiously awaiting the results, there are two options:
Option one, for normal people: Vote (if you're eligible), then watch TV/go out/do whatever you usually do, and go to bed. By 7am or so on Friday, the final result will almost definitely be known (and will be about to be officially declared), so you'll wake up to the result having missed very little.
Option two, for nerds: Hi, nerds! Option two is to spend a night watching the election results. It'll be fun. Should you be planning to stay up all night, here's a guide for what to expect and when (if everything goes to plan), and more importantly what different results might mean.
A note for non-UK readers: All times are in British Summer Time, which is GMT+1.
7am to 10pm, Thursday
Ballots are open, so if you're in the UK and registered to vote, you probably should. This is also a good time to stock up on snacks and caffeinated drinks – it's likely to be a long night.
If you're a real election aficionado, you may want to watch what the pound does over the course of the day: Some hedge funds have commissioned private exit polls (sampling actual voters as they leave polling stations), and so if you see sharp movements in the pound in any direction, this might be because they're acting on early indications. It could be something else entirely, though.
Polls close! It will be quite a long time until any results come through, and there is no official exit poll so information will still be a bit sketchy. Despite that, there are several things worth getting familiar with at this stage.
One: At 10pm we will get the results of YouGov's on-the-day poll. This did quite well for Scotland's referendum, but is less reliable than the large exit polls you see at 10pm on general election nights. Still, this will be the most solid evidence of the result for quite few hours.
Two: This map from YouGov will be really handy as the results come in. It shows, based on the firm's polling through the campaign, which areas lean most heavily towards Leave (blue) and Remain (pinkish-red). We've split the map into two, to make it clearer – you can swap between both at will:
NB: The original map included the Shetland and Orkney islands, which we needed to trim to fit properly in the post. Both lean very heavily towards Remain.
The more intense the colour in any area, the stronger the expected support for the relevant campaign. What that map makes absolutely clear is that Remain is relying upon Scotland and England's cities for its support. Leave's strongholds are the rest of England, while Wales is more evenly split between the two.
In short, through the night you should generally expect city areas and Scotland to vote Remain, and other areas to vote Leave.
Three: TNS will publish the first results of some qualitative research it's doing through the day. It's been keeping video diaries with 200 voters, and is especially interested in people who switch at the last minute. This will be anecdotal, but might give us a bit of a clue of any sudden swings on polling day. TNS will revise this at midnight.
Four: This is unlikely, but it's worth keeping an eye out for any polling trouble. Has anywhere run short on ballot papers? Are there registration problems? Have there been long lines to vote? British elections usually run pretty smoothly, and stations are prepared for a high turnout, but given the result is expected to be close, expect both campaigns to be watching closely for any irregularities.
It's still around 90 minutes until we can expect any results. Sorry. We did say it'd be a long wait. If you're looking for something to keep you occupied in the meantime, here's some of the BBC's coverage of the UK's 1975 referendum on EU membership. Handily, it's just over an hour long. See you when you're done.
Before we get into the real results – if you've watched the whole video they're coming any minute now – here are a few pointers on what they do and don't tell us.
We've talked about a few different key areas and how we "expect" them to vote. These predictions are based both on the demographics of those areas and information from polls over the course of the campaign, conducted before polling day. The precise figures for each area aren't too important – this isn't like a general election where they pick an MP – but tell us whether a campaign is over- or under-performing.
The other thing to watch for in early areas is turnout. Generally speaking, most experts think a higher turnout will favour Remain, so if turnout is well above 70%, that should be a good sign for them. If it's much below that, it's probably good news for Leave.
12:30am (it's Friday now!)
This is when we're finally expecting our first real results. They'll start as a trickle, and then flood in around 2am-4am. There are only two results expected around this time – Sunderland and Wandsworth.
Most psephologists expect Sunderland to vote Leave – Chris Hanretty estimates by around seven or so points (with large margins of error). If Sunderland favours Leave by, say, only five points, that doesn't really mean anything.
But if it were to (for example) back Remain by a large margin, that would suggest the referendum might be a lot less close than anyone expected.
By contrast, Wandsworth – a very central London area – is expected to be one of Remain's most solid votes, so should see a very large lead, perhaps in the region of 30 points or so. If Remain doesn't win very, very comfortably here, there'll be a lot of nervous people at Stronger In's HQ (not to mention 10 Downing Street).
But remember: These are only the first two counts – there are 380 areas still to declare.
We may also see around this time results from the City of London, which we expect to vote Remain, but as it has a tiny population of around 7,000 it's not too significant, and if the count is going well we may also see the first results from Northern Ireland – generally expected to back Remain – from Foyle. These could well be a little later, though.
We might get up to around 15 or 20 results over the course of this hour. Brexit watchers should keep an eye on Swindon and Oldham, two relatively large areas both expected to back Leave by a substantial margin.
One of Remain's strongest areas, Islington, may report during this hour. Unsurprisingly, Islington is expected to be one of the 10 council areas with the largest pro-Remain majority in the country. If this isn't a very strong lead, Remain's in big trouble. Gibraltar's results will be declared about now too – this is another very small area, but will also almost certainly vote heavily for Remain.
We should also see our first results from Scotland and Wales during this hour. Stirling, in Scotland, should comfortably back Remain and is expected to report back around 1:30am.
Results from Merthyr Tydfil in Wales are also expected around this time. This area is pretty close, but probably more likely to back Leave – it'd be a fairly good sign for Remain if it didn't. However, this is a good time for a warning:
This is not a general election, and it is not easy for us to predict. Because general elections happen every few years, we know which constituencies are good "bellwethers" – which ones are helpful for predicting the overall trend across the country.
There hasn't been a referendum on the EU since 1975; quite a lot of the current electorate wasn't even born. Just because one area we think is going to be close votes a particular way does not mean the country as a whole will.
There'll be a number of factors that decide the referendum: who turns up to vote, whether people have a last-minute bias to the status quo, whether supporters of one camp are more vocal than the other.
TL;DR – Don't read too much into the result in any one area.
Right, now we're down to business. There could be anything up to 60 or so results declared this hour, and it's at this point where newsrooms (and results shows) stop obsessing about the meaning of each result and just flurry them all out.
Bearing in mind the above warning about not reading too much into any given result, High Peak should be an interesting one to watch – according to the BBC's polling expert John Curtice, it's one of the 10 areas in the country expected to be closest between Leave and Remain.
For those watching out for strongholds, there's a few declaring this hour. Oxford and Lambeth's results should both come in very solidly for Remain, while Basildon and Castle Point should both have very hefty Leave votes.
This is going to be a very big two hours, so let's get some technical detail out of the way here. The results are being counted and declared in 382 different local areas. In England, Wales, and Scotland, these are based on council areas, while Northern Ireland is counting by parliamentary constituency.
These results are then being collated by region, and each region is then making an official declaration. This is essentially telling us information we already know again, but it's happening anyway.
The result won't be official until the national declaration, which will take all the final results from each region, add them up, and announce the total. This declaration will happen "around breakfast time", and will come from Manchester.
Why did you need that information now? Because if the result isn't particularly close, it's around this hour that we'll start to have a pretty good idea what the result will be.
There could be around 120-130 results over the course of this hour. It will be frenetic. There are actually so many results coming at this point it's not really worth trying to pick out individual ones – the thing to look out for now is the trend.
By 4am, we should have had around 200 out of 382 of the results, which means if the margin looks quite big (55-45 or more), we'll know who has probably won the election. Don't expect any outlets to make an "official" call at this point, but it may be a safe time to go to bed. One caveat, though – the polls suggest the vote will be a lot closer than this, in which case we won't know anything for a bit longer.
Here is one last interesting note, again via Chris Hanretty: There is a very slight bias in declaration timings. Based on how we "expect" different areas to lean versus the national result, the early results may slightly favour Remain, while the results at 3am to 4am are fairly balanced – but the later areas could slightly favour Leave. This is what that looks like:
In other words, if it's 50/50 by 4:30am, things look good for Leave.
We should get another 100 or so results between 4am and 5am, but there is one particularly significant one to watch out for: Birmingham. This by quite some margin the single biggest counting area in the country, and it's expected to favour Leave, but only very slightly. If the vote is close, this could be a very decisive moment over the course of the night.
During this hour, we should know the result of the referendum beyond all reasonable doubt (even if it's not official) unless it's very close – within 2-3 points. By the end of this hour, we'll have had around 280-300 of 382 results, and for most referendums, that's more than enough to know what's happening.
If the poll is so close that the likely result isn't clear at this stage, it'll be worth looking closely at what the different campaigns are saying – particularly if there were any issues with voting, or with counts (aren't you glad you were watching for that earlier?) – as it's very possible one campaign or the other could consider legal challenges or public complaints on the result.
By now, the referendum night will either be very boring indeed or absolutely nail-biting. If the result isn't all that close, this is a good time to sleep for a few hours: The last results will trickle in at a much slower pace than the frenetic 3am-5am period, but will all need to declare before the result is made official.
If it's very close, this hour will be intense. There should be around 30-40 results declared. Keep a close eye on Slough, which is quite a key marginal area, but also on Leeds, one of the bigger areas declaring at this time. Kensington and Chelsea's result is also expected around this time, and should be Remain's last really huge, reliable lead.
If you haven't slept, you'll probably be hallucinating right now. The last results are all expected by 7am, with Bristol among the bigger areas declaring this late (the town has a history of recent counting mishaps and delays, so is worth watching).
In reality, if everywhere has declared by 7am it'll be a minor miracle – there are always holdups on the night. These last areas are generally quite small, and on average slightly favour Remain. But unless the vote is ridiculously close, we shouldn't be holding our breath too much by this point.
By now, it should all be over – and it'll be time for the fallout to begin.
The UK stock markets open at 8am. This is the time we'll find out how they reacted to what happened in the vote. If you've stayed up all night for the result, it might be worth a quick look before bed.
Good luck, everyone.