Millions of guarded ballot boxes stuffed with European election voting cards are waiting in centres across the UK before the mammoth counting operation gets underway on Sunday night.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is expected to storm to a decisive victory following their surge to the top of the opinion polls which are predicting the collapse of the Conservative vote.
Britain went to the polls on Thursday after a delay to the Brexit departure date forced an election to return a new batch of UK politicians to the European Parliament.
Unlike a General Election – when the counting process begins immediately after polls close – votes will only be added up on Sunday so the result does not influence the electorates of the other 27 EU member states who are voting on different days.
Most of the EU member states will vote on Sunday and the Italians will be the last to cast their ballots. Once each country has closed its polling stations, the official count in Britain will begin at 10pm in boroughs and districts across the country.
Voters in Latvia, Malta and Slovakia are casting their ballots today, before 21 other countries including Germany, France and Spain begin on Sunday.
Millions of guarded ballot boxes stuffed with European election voting cards are waiting in centres (Uttlesford District Council pictured) across the UK before the mammoth counting operation gets underway on Sunday night
When polling stations shut at 10pm on Thursday, the hoard of sealed ballot boxes were taken to hundreds of local counting centres (South Cambridgeshire pictured) where they remain under the watchful eye of volunteers
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is expected to storm to a decisive victory following their surge to the top of the opinion polls which are predicting the collapse of the Conservative vote
Ballots are counted in the European Parliamentary elections and the referendum on Ireland’s divorce laws at the Royal Dublin Society in Dublin today
Many of the votes inside the ballot boxes are expected to have been cast in favour of the hardline eurosceptic Brexit Party, which is poised to thrash the mainstream parties.
Its popularity saw the party climb to 37 per cent in the latest YouGov opinion poll, miles in front of the second placed Liberal Democrats which sat on 19 per cent going into Thursday’s vote.
EU elections voting timetable
Thursday May 23 – Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Friday May 24 – Ireland.
Saturday May 25 – Latvia, Malta and Slovakia.
Sunday May 26 – Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.
Member states cannot publish results until the last vote has been cast on Sunday.
Announcements are set to begin after 10pm (BST).
Founded only six weeks ago by ex-Ukip leader Farage, the party recruited thousands of supporters during the election campaign which saw the charismatic leader tour the nation for a series of rallies.
The Brexit Party’s success is expected to eat away at the votes for the two main parties, with Labour dwindling on 13 per cent and the Conservatives poised to take a drubbing with only seven per cent in the polls.
When polling stations closed at 10pm, the hoard of sealed ballot boxes were taken to hundreds of local council counting centres where they remain locked away – but not before being snapped and tweeted by council volunteers.
Each ballot box was sealed in front of witnesses and candidates, with candidates even allowed to fasten their own seal.
On Friday, the contents of each box was emptied and the ballot slips were tallied.
Farage’s former party Ukip – which won the last European election in 2014 – will likely get hammered and could fail to return any of their MEPs.
On Friday, the contents of each box was emptied and the ballot slips were tallied face-down so that voter turnout could be gauged ahead of the proper count (Wealden centre pictured)
The official count will start at 10pm on Sunday night when the other 27 EU states have finished their elections
Many of the the votes inside these ballot boxes are expected to have been cast in favour of the hardline eurosceptic Brexit Party – led by Nigel Farage – which is poised to thrash the mainstream parties
Each counting station will be presided over by a Returning Officer who will then pass the result to the Regional Returning Officer for the announcement.
But while some smaller regions will declare the results on Sunday night and in the early hours of Monday, the larger and sparsely populated regions are likely to still be counting the following day.
In the UK, there are 12 electoral regions: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, East Midlands, Eastern, London, North East, North West, South East, South West, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.
These regions will return a total of 73 MEPs who will sit in the 750-strong European Parliament in Brussels.
The European Parliament is the legislative body of the European Union that votes on laws proposed by the un-elected Commission.
Because the UK was originally meant to leave the bloc on March 29, Euro elections were only scheduled at the last minute when outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May failed to push her Brexit deal through the Commons.