London: British politicians yesterday made their final pitch to a bitterly divided electorate on the eve a crucial referendum to persuade undecided voters of the merits of remaining in or leaving the 28-member EU with polls showing a razor-tight race whose outcome could shape Europe’s future.

The Union and European Union flags fly outside City Hall in central London on the eve of the EU referendum. Opinion polls indicate a tiny lead for the "Remain" camp led by Prime Minister David Cameron but the result is too close to call. AFP PHOTO
The Union and European Union flags fly outside City Hall in central London on the eve of the EU referendum. Opinion polls indicate a tiny lead for the "Remain" camp led by Prime Minister David Cameron but the result is too close to call. AFP PHOTO

More than 46 million people are eligible to vote in the referendum in which people are being asked to choose whether the UK should stay in the European Union or leave in the first vote on the UK’s links with Europe for more than 40 years.

Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the support from top businesses as he kicked off the final hours of his campaigning, stressing that the UK enjoyed a “special status” within the EU and the “best of both worlds.”

But Boris Johnson and other Leave campaigners said only a vote to leave the EU could give the UK the freedom it needs to set its own course, rejecting the economic forecasts suggesting the country would face a downturn following Brexit.

In his closing speech, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage said it had been a “long, lonely road” for him and his party — which has campaigned for EU exit for more than 20 years — and he believed his party’s supporters would “crawl over broken glass” to vote for Brexit.

At the close of the polls, thousands of sealed ballot boxes will be collected from schools and church halls which double up as polling stations and transported to one of 382 counting venues across the UK. Jenny Watson, the chair of the UK’s Electoral Commission and the referendum’s chief counting officer at Manchester Town Hall on Friday morning, will declare the result.

28 Number of EU countries

46 million The number of people expected to vote in the referendum

800  Number of Indian businesses that will get affected in the vote

1,55,100 The number of EU migrant families in UK that stand to be affected in the vote

GBP 8.8 billion Britain’s contribution to the European Union in 2014/15