What time will the UK know the result of the US election?

Your guide to the American election: when each state declares, who is likely to win it, and what kind of hot dogs you need.

So You're Staying Up To Watch The US Election.

Good on you. Hopefully you've taken the day off work tomorrow, because you are in for a long night. Also hopefully you're not cheering for a Romney victory, because if you are, smgdh.

If you haven't planned your night already, it might be a bit late to start. But here's a rough timeline for the evening:

Before the night starts

Put together your food and drink. Probably best to eat your dinner now, because you're not going to want to take time away from the HOT POLITICAL ACTION to cook something. Also, if you're anything like me, you'll need something to line your stomach for the night ahead.

You might want to eat a bipartisan salad or some Uncle Sammies while drinking an All-American if you don't want your food to say "I am a hopey-changey style person, even four years on". Alternatively, if your recipies are as fiercely partisan as you are, why not make some Chicago hot dogs and Barack Obama pizza burgers. It's probably too late to brew some White House Honey Porter (it's definitely too late to brew some White House Honey Porter), but a good American beer will go a long way. At the "beer summit" in 2009, Obama drank Bud Light. But you can do better than that.

11:30pm UK Time

Coverage kicks off. BBC 1 has David Dimbleby in Washington DC and Emily Maitlis in the studio, and also features Katty Kay on expert analysis, and Jeremy Vine, probably dressed up as an alien firing a ray-gun at astronauts or something, I don't know.

ITV's coverage is hosted by Alastair Stewart, and will also feature "contributions" from Julie Etchingham, Mark Austin, Bill Neely and Robert Moore.

If you switch over to Channel 4 and see bombs and things, DO NOT BE ALARMED: it is showing Homeland instead.

The 24-hour news channels will also be doing their thing, while if you ache with nostalgia for the bad old days, Sky Atlantic is showing the 2008 Bush v Gore docudrama, Recount.

12:00am

It begins. The first states' polls close, but do not be alarmed: five are safe Romney states, and only one is a hold for Obama. The only toss-up in this first batch is Virginia, and it is very close: in the latest polls, Obama is in the lead, but his hold is less than half a per cent.

It will take a while for exit polls and early counts to work out on which side of the fence Virginia is going fall, and call accordingly. Obama winning Virginia would be very good, but even if he loses it, he's still relatively safe. Either way, we're unlikely to find out what happens before…

12:30am

The big one. If there is one state this election is riding on, it's Ohio, and polls show him with a pretty confident lead in the state – around 3 per cent. It would be a major upset for Obama to lose the state, and its 18 electors, so make sure you're around when polls close.

At the same time, polls are closing in North Carolina. This is a crucial hold for Romney. If Obama wins these two states, he's won the election. In all likelihood, though, the states will go the way they're predicted.

1:00am

A raft of states' polls close now, but the two we are interested in are Florida and New Hampshire. (Pennsylvania is a quite close race, but expected to be a safe Obama hold – his lead is almost five per cent). Florida is an absolute must-hold for Romney. If he loses that – even if he's won all the swing states up to this point – it's likely all over. A Romney without Florida needs to hold Ohio, North Caroline, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire – as well as have no upsets in his safe states – to win the election.

Romney has a lead in Florida – but it's not as strong as he would like. Latest polls put him 1.5 per cent ahead of Obama, but NYT polling-guru Nate Silver gives Obama a 52 per cent chance of winning the state.

New Hampshire is a swing-state which leans Obama, but it's four electoral votes are only going to be a key in the most marginal situations. Nonetheless, the Democrats will be pleased to take the state.

1:30am

If you are playing along at home, we've got Obama behind with 135 electoral college votes – Virginia remains a toss-up, but in the interests of an exciting race, I'm predicting it will fall to Romney by this time in the night, which gives him 149 amongst the states which have declared.

1:30 is the quiet period – only Arkansas, a Romney cert, closes its polls then, adding another six votes to his tally. Take the opportunity to go to the loo, make a midnight snack, or run out to the 24hr off-license, because coming up is the big one.

2:00am

By this time, voting will have ended in 40 states. Amongst the safe seats, Mitt Romney's big hitters have all closed – Texas alone will give him 38 electors, while Arizona gives another 11, and the midwest a further 17. New York State also closes its polls, the last of the east coast to shut, and will likely send 29 to Obama. Before we look at the swing states, Obama's electoral tally is at 165 to Romney's 229.

Michigan is the safest battleground state featured here, but is still worth a look. Obama is polling at 49.2, compared to Romney's 45.4, but he really needs the state – one which has been hit hard by the recession, and isn't seeing much of the recovery either.

Colorado is always a swing state, going blue for Obama, but having been Republican for the three elections before that. Although Obama should win there – and is polling in the lead – a win for Romney there would put him in a very interesting position – which we'll come to.

Wisconsin is another battleground in name only. The Democrats are polling almost four per cent above the Republicans, and the state – and its 10 electors – are likely to go to Obama.

At the end of this rush, then, we've put Obama on 191 and Romney on 238. The states have mostly fallen down the line, except for Colorado and Virginia, which we've given to Romney. What next?

3:00am

Montana and Utah turn red instantly, giving Romney another nine electors. But what of the last two battleground states, Iowa and Nevada?

Both have a strong lead for Obama, well over two per cent. But we are getting late enough in the day that turnout is starting to be affected by the calls made elsewhere. In our imaginary scenario, could Romney winning Florida and Virgina early on motivate turnout? Could he win those two states?

If he did, then we'd have a very interesting situation indeed: a near-certain tie. If Romney takes Florida, North Carolina, Virgina, Colorado, Iowa and Nevada, then the candidates are near certain to have 270 269 electors each. That would boot the decision over to the newly elected congress, where the House of Representatives would elect the president, and the Senate would pick the vice-president – which, given the split in control, would mean a Romney/Biden presidency, the first split White House in over 200 years, when John Adams had to govern with his opponent Thomas Jefferson.

In reality, that's unlikely to happen. Obama will most likely win Iowa and Nevada, leaving him with 203 votes to Romney's 247. Although the numbers don't show it, at this point, he has won the election – and in fact, will have even if he loses one of Iowa or Nevada – because in an hour…

4:00am

The east west coast declares. California, Oregon and Washington state will all turn blue, giving Obama another 84 votes, and pushing him over the 270 he needs to win.

And the rest is history.

If you want to stay up later still, the Daily Show/Colbert Report election special begins now on the Comedy Central website, and runs until 5:00am UK time.

Or you could just go to bed.

Watching politics in style. Photograph: BarackObama.com

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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An Irish Sea border – and 3 other tricky options for Northern Ireland after Brexit

There is no easy option for Northern Ireland after Brexit. 

Deciding on post-Brexit border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is becoming an issue for which the phrase "the devil is in the detail" could have been coined. Finding a satisfactory solution that delivers a border flexible enough not to damage international trade and commerce and doesn’t undermine the spirit, or the letter, of the Good Friday Agreement settlement is foxing Whitehall’s brightest.

The dial seemed to have settled on David Davis’s suggestion that there could be a "digital border" with security cameras and pre-registered cargo as a preferred alternative to a "hard border" replete with checkpoints and watchtowers.

However the Brexit secretary’s suggestion has been scotched by the new Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, who says electronic solutions are "not going to work". Today’s Times quotes him saying that "any barrier or border on the island of Ireland in my view risks undermining a very hard-won peace process" and that there is a need to ensure the "free movement of people and goods and services and livelihoods".

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has made dealing with the Irish border question one of his top three priorities before discussions on trade deals can begin. British ministers are going to have to make-up their minds which one of four unpalatable options they are going to choose:

1. Hard border

The first is to ignore Dublin (and just about everybody in Northern Ireland for that matter) and institute a hard border along the 310-mile demarcation between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Given it takes in fields, rivers and forests it’s pretty unenforceable without a Trump-style wall. More practically, it would devastate trade and free movement. Metaphorically, it would be a powerful symbol of division and entirely contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. The Police Federation in Northern Ireland has also warned it would make police officers "sitting ducks for terrorists". Moreover, the Irish government will never agree to this course. With the EU in their corner, there is effectively zero chance of this happening.

2. Northern EU-land

The second option is to actually keep Northern Ireland inside the EU: offering it so-called "special status". This would avoid the difficulty of enforcing the border and even accord with the wishes of 56 per cent of the Northern Irish electorate who voted to Remain in the EU. Crucially, it would see Northern Ireland able to retain the £600m a year it currently receives from the EU. This is pushed by Sinn Fein and does have a powerful logic, but it would be a massive embarrassment for the British Government and lead to Scotland (and possibly London?) demanding similar treatment.

3. Natural assets

The third option is that suggested by the Irish government in the Times story today, namely a soft border with customs and passport controls at embarkation points on the island of Ireland, using the Irish Sea as a hard border (or certainly a wet one). This option is in play, if for no other reason than the Irish government is suggesting it. Again, unionists will be unhappy as it requires Britain to treat the island of Ireland as a single entity with border and possibly customs checks at ports and airports. There is a neat administrate logic to it, but it means people travelling from Northern Ireland to "mainland" Britain would need to show their passports, which will enrage unionists as it effectively makes them foreigners.

4. Irish reunification

Unpalatable as that would be for unionists, the fourth option is simply to recognise that Northern Ireland is now utterly anomalous and start a proper conversation about Irish reunification as a means to address the border issue once and for all. This would see both governments acting as persuaders to try and build consent and accelerate trends to reunify the island constitutionally. This would involve twin referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Republic (a measure allowed for in the Good Friday Agreement). Given Philip Hammond is warning that transitional arrangements could last three years, this might occur after Brexit in 2019, perhaps as late as the early 2020s, with interim arrangements in the meantime. Demographic trends pointing to a Catholic-nationalist majority in Northern Ireland would, in all likelihood require a referendum by then anyway. The opportunity here is to make necessity the mother of invention, using Brexit to bring Northern Ireland’s constitutional status to a head and deal decisively with the matter once and for all.

In short, ministers have no easy options, however time is now a factor and they will soon have to draw the line on, well, drawing the line.

Kevin Meagher is a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland Office and author of "A United Ireland: Why unification is inevitable and how it will come about"

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office.