Conservative supporters of Brexit including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have written to David Cameron urging him to stay on as Prime Minister regardless of the result, as counting got under way in the historic referendum on UK membership of the European Union.
The letter was delivered to 10 Downing Street as leading Leave supporter Nigel Farage indicated he was preparing to concede defeat.
The Ukip leader said the Remain camp seemed likely to “edge it”, but insisted his party would continue its fight to take Britain out of the EU.
The final polls of the campaign put the In side ahead by a narrow margin, with a YouGov survey released as polling stations closed at 10pm giving Remain 52% to Leave’s 48%.
With no exit polls conducted by broadcasters, a reliable picture of the likely outcome was not expected to emerge until the early hours of Friday, with the final result expected at breakfast time.
Some 84 Tories signed the letter to tell Mr Cameron: “We believe whatever the British people decide you have both a mandate and a duty to continue leading the nation implementing our policies.”
As well as Mr Johnson and Mr Gove, the signatories included Cabinet-level Brexit backers Chris Grayling and John Whittingdale, but not Iain Duncan Smith, who quit as work and pensions secretary shortly before the referendum
Tory MP Robert Syms said that two-thirds of Conservative MPs who broke with the PM to back Leave had signed the letter, but said it had not been possible to reach all of them to ask them to sign.
Mr Farage told Sky News: “It’s been an extraordinary referendum campaign, turnout looks to be exceptionally high and (it) looks like Remain will edge it.
“Ukip and I are going nowhere and the party will only continue to grow stronger in the future.”
But Mr Duncan Smith cast doubt on Mr Farage’s suggestion that Remain is set for victory.
“I never quite follow what Nigel Farage says,” he told the BBC. “Quite often he says two different things at the same time.
“I genuinely do not have a sense of how this has gone.”