A woman walks out of a polling station set up inside a Synagogue in Marylebone
Photograph by Dan Kitwood — Getty Images
By Geoffrey Smith
June 23, 2016

The pound sterling hit a new high for 2016 within minutes of the polls closing Thursday in the U.K.’s referendum on staying in the EU, as leading politicians involved in the campaign appeared to concede a narrow defeat.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party whose rise has played a large part in pressuring Prime Minister David Cameron to hold the referendum, said it “looked like ‘Remain’ had edged it,” although he later insisted that he hadn’t formally conceded, and that his comments were based on “what I know from some of my friends in the financial markets who have done some big polling.”

Arriving later at his campaign headquarters, Farage told reporters that “whoever wins this battle, one thing I am completely certain of is that we are winning this war. . .the Euroskeptic genie is out of the bottle and it will not be put back.”

Big banks are reported to have commissioned their own private polls to create the kind of exit poll that isn’t officially available tonight.

The pound has already risen over 6% in the last nine days as fears of a vote in favor of “Brexit” have receded, leaving many in the markets thinking that it’s unlikely to rise much further in the event of a ‘Remain’ vote.

Sterling broke through $1.50 for the first time since last year on Farage’s initial comments, but gave up all of those gains and more in the course of the next hour, as conflicting reports, of whether Brexit was defeated or not, started to come in. As of midnight in Britain, the pound was back at $1.48, below where it was when the polls closed.

“Now we get to see how many people waited to buy until they saw if Remain won. . .and how many held off on selling until we got the pop,” tweeted Michael Aston, head of Enduring Investments, a boutique consulting and investment management company in New York.

The first results from the 382 voting districts across Britain are due imminently. One district has already reported, but it’s unlikely to have any impact on the final count. The tiny British enclave of Gibraltar, at the southern tip of Spain, voted over 95% in favor of Remain, but that is because its daily life depends heavily on Spain keeping open the land border. A total of 19,322 voted for Remain, while 823 voted Leave.

The first, more representative, results from British cities are due around 12:30 local time (19:30 p.m. ET).

 

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