Rival Brexit camps battle into eve of referendum

2016-06-22 10:45
Pro-EU supporters hold placards and banners during a 'Yes to Europe' rally in London's Trafalgar square, ahead of Thursday's EU referendum, in central London. (Niklas Halle'n, AFP)

Pro-EU supporters hold placards and banners during a 'Yes to Europe' rally in London's Trafalgar square, ahead of Thursday's EU referendum, in central London. (Niklas Halle'n, AFP)

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London – Rival sides threw their efforts into the final day of campaigning on Wednesday, on the eve of Britain's vote on EU membership that will shape the future of Europe.

Prime Minister David Cameron conducted a spate of last-minute interviews to get his pro-EU message to voters before polls open at 06:00 GMT on Thursday.

"Nobody knows what is going to happen," he told the Financial Times. "I believe it will one way or another be decisive. Britain will not want to go through this again."

The "Remain" camp has the slimmest possible lead on 51% versus 49% support for the "Leave" side, according to an average of polls compiled by What UK Thinks.

In a final push to win over the undecided voters who could tip the referendum, campaigners will speak at rival "Leave" and "Remain" rallies taking place within hours of each other in London.

Representatives from both sides will then meet in a final television debate on Channel 4 featuring anti-EU UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond for "Remain".

The prospect of Britain becoming the first state to defect from the EU in the bloc's 60-year history has raised fears of a domino-effect collapse of the European project.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker earlier Britain against "an act of self-harm" he said would endanger everything Europeans had worked together to achieve.

'Lies. Greedy elites'

Two newspapers used their Wednesday front pages for last-minute endorsements of opposite sides of the campaign.

"Lies. Greedy elites. Or a great future outside a broken, dying Europe," wrote the Daily Mail. "If you believe in Britain vote Leave."

But the Daily Mirror urged readers to back EU membership "for your jobs... for your children... for Britain's future".

The campaign has been fought over the two key issues of the economy and immigration, with both sides accusing the other of "scaremongering".

The Mirror described it as "the most divisive, vile and unpleasant political campaign in living memory."

Around the world, events will be held to mark what would have been the 42nd birthday of lawmaker Jo Cox, who was murdered last week on a village street in her electoral district in northern England, upending the campaign.

Her alleged killer, Thomas Mair, is due to appear in court for a preliminary hearing. In his first court appearance, he gave his name as "Death to traitors, freedom for Britain".

The murder raised concerns that the debate had stirred ugly currents.

Cox's widower Brendan said his wife, a noted pro-EU campaigner who advocated for refugee rights, had been killed because of her political views.

"She worried about the tone of the [referendum] debate... The tone of whipping up fears and whipping up hatred potentially," he told the BBC.

'Project Fear'

The campaign has been closely watched by financial markets, and the world's leading central backs have consulted about the potential impact of a Brexit, according to European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi.

Hundreds of business leaders including Virgin boss Richard Branson and US media mogul Michael Bloomberg published a warning in The Times newspaper that Britain leaving the EU could cause an "economic shock".

As the message "vote remain" was projected onto landmarks including London's Tate Modern, the rival camps faced off in a heated debate in front of an audience of six thousands the Wembley concert arena.

"Leave" campaigner Boris Johnson accused "Remain" rivals of running a "Project Fear" by warning that leaving would damage Britain's economy.

"They say we have no choice but to bow down to Brussels. We say they are woefully underestimating this country and what it can do," Johnson said.

The Conservative lawmaker concluded the night with by promising Britain an "independence day" on Thursday if it voted to leave, which brought sections of the audience to their feet in prolonged applause.

Read more on:    uk  |  eu

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