LONDON – Millions of people in Britain headed to the polling booths on Thursday on a cold and stormy day to decide whether they would support Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to "do the Brexit" or support opposition parties wishing to delay Britain's exit from the European Union or even to cancel it altogether.
The vote, Britain's first winter general election in nearly a century and its fourth national vote in less than five years, is not formally directly linked to Brexit. But Johnson called for the vote in an attempt to gain an active majority to break a parliamentary deadlock over the EU's exit from the EU.
An exit vote must take place at 10 pm local time (17:00 ET).
An overall result is expected in the early hours of Friday morning.
If Johnson's Conservative Party retains power with a comfortable majority in Parliament, it will pave the way for him to advance Brexit on January 31. Jeremy Corbyn may try to form a minority government through partnerships with other opposition groups, such as the Liberal Democrats. A total of 650 parliamentary seats are up for grabs.
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The election comes three years after Britain narrowly voted to leave the EU. The nation is as divided now as it is in 2016. There is also a desire to move on.
"We're fed up. This just has to end," said Julie Ames, 30, who works at a hair salon while walking to a polling station south of the British capital.
British electoral law prohibits revealing details about how someone else voted. However, social media posts have indicated long lines at some polling stations, which is unusual in Britain. It may suggest that participation is higher than expected, although it is not immediately clear which parties will be favorable.
Voting also takes place amid allegations of disinformation campaigns and outright falsehoods disseminated by all major political parties. However, Johnson's Conservative Party has done more than any other group to push the boundaries of truth and transparency, according to a study by First Draft, a media watchdog. He found that nearly 90% of conservative-paid Facebook ads in the early days of December contained misleading claims.
During the period, the Conservative Party created over 6,000 ads.
Corbyn, 70, has placed the preservation of Britain's beloved National Health Service (HNS) at the center of his campaign. The Labor Party has argued that Brexit will open the NHS to US pharmaceutical and technology companies as part of Johnson's effort to create a post-Brexit Britain with lower and less regulated taxes. Johnson has repeatedly contested this claim, although he has a track record of being big business and big development when he was mayor of London between 2008 and 2016. He also openly declared falsehoods.
"Being behind the NHS is a kind of secular religion for all Britons," said Richard Whitman, a political scientist at the University of Kent.
Whitman said the election represents a choice for Britain: to maintain close economic and political ties with Europe or to approach the United States as a result of an expected trade agreement that the two nations would sign after Brexit.
Still, Johnson focused almost exclusively on Brexit throughout his campaign.
"If we can get a majority of work, we have a deal, it's ready," said Johnson, 55, Wednesday during his last campaign appearance in central England.
"We put it, we bake it, we take it out and it's done – make the Brexit," said the prime minister as he watched pies being baked at a catering company.
Corbyn said Wednesday at his final campaign rally: "My message to all voters who are still undecided is that you can vote for hope in this election."
The result of Thursday's vote could have major consequences for the British union of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in the 2016 vote, and political leaders there threatened to call for an independence vote if Brexit occurs.