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EU referendum: Remain campaign reduced to silent despair as sun rises on Brexit

The mood swung from optimistic to sour over the evening

Jon Stone
Friday 24 June 2016 06:49 BST
Remainers on the night of the referendum
Remainers on the night of the referendum (REUTERS)

The Stronger In referendum night party was at London’s South Bank Centre – built, like the EU, in a spirit of optimism after the Second World War. From its balconies you can see the Palace of Westminster, the Millennium wheel, and Remain’s London heartland stretching away into the streetlit night.

Most activists arrived having seen two good polls showing their side ahead. Nigel Farage had all but conceded defeat to the press and everyone felt good. There were smiles on young activists’ faces and the bright hum of chatter in the air.

At the start of the night phone bank workers and pavement-pounders enjoyed the wine and buffet curry while suited Westminster types gathered around the TVs or thumbed their mobile phones. Meanwhile, Two Conservative cabinet ministers, Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, were seen quietly enjoying the nibbles.

Arriving around midnight former Labour leader Ed Miliband said it was “that time of the night” where it was too early to tell the result. He spoke like a veteran of election night upsets that didn’t go his way.

As the first news of huge Leave gains in Sunderland broke, most people at the party were not paying attention to the TV. There was no instant or palpable change in mood. Neither did a watershed come as hometown after hometown showed a 60 to 40 split to Leave.

The moment Britain officially voted to leave the EU

But gradually, as the clock approached 2am more people on the fringes of the room started to gather around the televisions and big screen. The faces of people wearing suits became more ashen and arms started to fold. Most of the crowd was still unconcerned, though, and t-shirted activists continued to sound positive.

As the results and night darkened together, increasing numbers of activists found refuge on the centre’s concrete balconies overlooking the Thames. Increasingly tipsy, they ran through the possibilities of victory as bad result after bad result trickled in.

“Surely there’s more Scotland, more cities, more Northern Ireland? Liverpool?” one asked. Most had already been declared. Slowly, they seem to be running out of places.

By 3am, fingernails are being visibly bitten. More eyes are fixed on the television. A few young activists head to the lifts to get a cab. One of their number appears to resist. “Not much is going to change,” comes the reply. They all shuffle out.

A slightly sozzled core were left at 4am when Nigel Farage came on television. The room turns absolutely silent until his speech gets going. Its content doesn’t go down well at all. There are laughs of disbelief when he says “honesty” has won the day. “This is a victory for real people,” he pronounces. “You’re a fucking prick” a woman slurs in response.

In the background a pundit is on television saying Mr Farage’s speech is premature – that there are still lots of results left to come. He shouldn’t be declaring victory at this early stage. At the Stronger In party it doesn’t feel that way at all.

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