Britain votes on EU membership after tight and bitter campaign

Britain votes on EU membership after tight and bitter campaign

LONDON – Reuters
Britain votes on EU membership after tight and bitter campaign

AFP photo

Britons voted on June 23 on whether to stay in the European Union in a referendum that has split the nation and is being nervously watched by financial markets and politicians across the world. 

An Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard newspaper, conducted on June 21 and June 22, suggested support for “Remain” stood at 52 percent while “Leave” was on 48 percent. 

Two other polls published late on June 22 also suggested a modest late swing towards “Remain,” but the overall picture was of a vote that was too close to forecast. 

Much will depend on turnout, with younger Britons seen as more supportive of the EU than their elders but less likely to vote. 

British Prime Minister David Cameron called the vote under pressure from the anti-EU wing of his Conservative Party and the surging U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), hoping to end decades of debate over Britain’s ties with Europe. 

The “Leave” campaign says Britain’s economy would benefit from an exit from the EU, or Brexit. Cameron says it would cause financial chaos and impoverish the nation. 

He voted early, and said on Twitter: “Vote Remain - so that our children and grandchildren have a brighter future.” 

His main rival, former London mayor Boris Johnson, whose decision to support “Leave” galvanized its campaign, told voters on June 22 this was the “last chance to sort this out.”

It is only the third referendum in British history. The first, also about membership of what was then called the European Economic Community, was in 1975. 

The four-month campaign, which has exposed bitter divisions in the ruling Conservative Party, was dominated by immigration and the economy, and shaken by the murder of pro-EU Labour lawmaker Jo Cox last week. 

The killing of Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two young children, in her electoral district in northern England prompted a pause in the campaign and soul-searching about its tone. Cox’s husband said she had been concerned about the coarsening of political dialogue. 

Traders, investors and companies were braced for volatility on financial markets whatever the outcome of a vote that both reflected, and has fuelled, an anti-establishment mood also seen in the United States and elsewhere in Europe. 

On June 22, campaigners from both sides tried to win over the estimated 10 percent of the 46.5 million electorate who polls suggest had still not decided which way to vote. 

The “In” campaign took aim at their rivals by saying a Brexit would hurt the economy, security and the country’s status. The “Out” campaign said high levels of immigration could not be controlled inside the EU and it was time to bring powers back from Brussels to London.