Anticipation builds for exit poll as final votes cast in high-stakes election

Voters are awaiting the exit poll which will indicate who has won the General Election as the final ballots are cast following weeks of campaigning by party leaders.

Polling stations across the UK opened at 7am, giving millions of voters the chance to decide if the Tory incumbent Rishi Sunak remains in the top job or the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer enters Downing Street.

Opinion polls suggest Labour is on course to secure a big majority in the House of Commons and form a new government.

The first indication of whether the pollsters were correct will come moments after the ballot closes at 10pm, when the exit poll is broadcast by the BBC, Sky and ITV.

Mr Sunak, who has insisted the results are not a foregone conclusion despite dire poll ratings for his party, voted in his Richmond constituency.

He waved at reporters as he and his wife Akshata Murty arrived hand-in-hand at the Kirby Sigston Village Hall, as he hopes to be returned to Parliament as the MP for Richmond and Northallerton.

On X, the Prime Minister repeated his plea to voters to “stop the Labour supermajority”.

Sir Keir was also joined by his wife, Victoria, as he visited a polling station in his Holborn and St Pancras constituency.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty arrive to cast their vote in the 2024 General Election at Kirby Sigston Village Hall in Northallerton
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty arrive to cast their vote in the 2024 General Election at Kirby Sigston Village Hall in Northallerton (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The Labour leader told his final rally in Redditch, Worcestershire, on Wednesday night to “imagine a Britain moving forward together with a Labour government”.

He added: “That’s what we are fighting for, let’s continue that fight.

“If you want change, you have to vote for it.”

As the bookies’ favourite to be the next prime minister, Sir Keir said he was pleased with Labour’s campaign and his party was “ready for what comes next”.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and his wife Emily arrive to cast their votes at Surbiton Hill Methodist Church
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and his wife Emily cast their votes at Surbiton Hill Methodist Church (Yui Mok/PA)

A victory for Sir Keir would see Labour return to power for the first time in 14 years.

Other party leaders have also cast their votes, with Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and his wife Emily visiting a polling station in Surbiton.

“It’s a beautiful day. I hope lots of people come out to vote,” Sir Ed said as he left Surbiton Hill Methodist Church.

Scotland’s First Minister John Swinney was joined by his son Matthew as he cast his ballot at Burrelton Village Hall, Perth and Kinross.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar cast his vote at Pollokshields Burgh Hall in Glasgow, accompanied by his wife Furheen and son Aliyan.

Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party, walked with supporters to a Bristol polling station to vote.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson shared a video of himself walking to a polling station and saying: “I’m going to cast my vote against the nightmare prospect of a left-wing government.”

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn posted a photo of himself outside a polling station on social media with the caption: “Just voted for the independent candidate in Islington North.”

Mr Corbyn is hoping to pull off a shock win in his London seat, which he won for Labour at every general election since 1983 until he was blocked from standing again for his old party.

The exit poll in each of the past few elections has produced a very accurate projection of the actual result.

John Swinney waves standing alongside his son Matthew outside a polling station
Scotland’s First Minister John Swinney attended Burreltown Village Hall polling station with his son Matthew (Jane Barlow/PA)

These take place at polling stations across the country, with tens of thousands of people asked to privately fill in a replica ballot as they leave, to get an indication of how they voted.

The first of the 650 seats are likely to declare their results from 11.30pm.

It is the first General Election where voters will need to show photographic ID before they can receive their ballot paper following a law change in 2022.

In his last-ditch appeal to voters after touring the country since calling the election, Mr Sunak said Thursday represented a “pivotal moment” for the country’s future as he claimed Labour would “wield their unchecked power” to increase taxes should they secure a “supermajority”.

In his final stump speech on Wednesday evening, Mr Sunak said: “This underdog will fight to the final whistle.”

Ending a tour that was dominated by attention-grabbing stunts, Lib Dem leader Sir Ed said he had enjoyed the campaign, which saw him travel the entire length of the UK, cover 6,000 miles on the Lib Dem’s Yellow Hammer One bus and bungee 160 feet.

General Election 2024
Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer was at Redland Park United Reformed Church in Bristol to cast her vote (Jonathan Brady/PA)

In a Harpenden stump speech, he said: “Communities are angry. The water companies have been allowed to pour their filthy sewage into our rivers, lakes and onto our beaches. This has to change. The Conservatives have got to go.”

North of the border, Scotland’s First Minister Mr Swinney urged “every single SNP voter” to turn out on Thursday in what he said would be an “incredibly close” contest throughout the country.

An average of all polls completed during the seven days to July 3 puts Labour on 39%, the party’s lowest rating since the campaign began, 18 points ahead of the Conservatives on 21%, followed by Reform on 16%, the Lib Dems on 11% and the Greens on 6%.

The Tories are up slightly on the figures for the previous week while Labour are down, with the averages for the seven days to June 26 being Labour 41%, Conservatives 20%, Reform 16%, Lib Dems 11% and Greens 6%.

On May 22, the day Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the General Election, the seven-day averages stood at Labour 45%, Conservatives 23%, Reform 11%, Lib Dems 9% and Greens 6%.