Voter registration deadline for Brexit referendum extended after website crash

British government will rush through urgent legislation after voters encounter problems registering online

A website crash has forced the British government to rush through urgent legislation to extend the deadline for registering to vote in the EU referendum.

UK Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock urged voters to register now - but said the deadline for taking part in the referendum would be extended until midnight on Thursday.

More than half a million people registered to vote yesterday, with just over two weeks to go until Britain decides whether to stay in the European Union or go it alone on June 23rd.

Traffic to the government's voter website peaked at around 10.15pm, with more than 50,000 people on the registration page - but many were left disappointed after the service failed during a last-minute rush to sign up.

Some of those trying to register found the message: "Sorry we are having technical problems. Please try again in a few moments."

A live usage site said more than 26,000 people were online with five minutes to go before the midnight deadline - and 20,000 were still on the site at 12.01am this morning.

Before the extension was announced, the Prime Minister told MPs: "I'm very clear that people should continue to register today. The Electoral Commission have made a statement this morning, urging the Government to consider options that would effectively extend the deadline.

"These should include legislative options.

"We are doing that and discussing it with the Electoral Commission today."

The Electoral Commission said in a statement: "There will be many people who wanted to register to vote last night and were not able to. 

"The registration deadline is set out in legislation and we have said to the Government this morning they should consider options for introducing legislation as soon as possible that would extend the deadline. We would support such a change."

Around 132,000 of the people who registered yesterday were aged under 25, compared to around 13,000 from the 65 to 74-year-old age group.

Irish citizens aged 18 or over who live in the UK, Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland but are now living overseas, and Irish citizens currently overseas but who have been registered to vote in Northern Ireland in the past 15 years are all eligible to vote.