Polls show 'Remain' has slight edge over Brexit

23 June 2016

Opinion polls published up to Wednesday before Thursday's referendum have mostly shown a shift towards keeping Britain in the European Union (EU), but the "In" camp's lead is small and most pollsters say the race still looks too close to call.

Prime Minister David Cameron criss-crossed the country urging voters to remain in the EU  

Betting odds, provided by gambling firm Betfair, gave the "Remain" campaign an 80-per cent probability of winning, up from as low as 59 per cent last week.

Prime Minister David Cameron criss-crossed the country on Wednesday in a final effort to convince Britain's voters against rejecting the EU in the historic poll, that will also be read as a referendum on his premiership.

Cameron was accompanied last night by former Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Sir John Major, the Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, and the Green MP Caroline Lucas, in a final display of cross-party unity as the polls pointed to a close finish.

Appearing in his shirt sleeves, and with his voice breaking at times, the prime minister issued an impassioned personal plea to the public to reject the ''untruths'' of the leave campaign. He pleaded for voters to ''put jobs first, put the economy first''.

The prime minister will vote in his constituency on Thursday morning, before returning to Downing Street to watch the results come in overnight. He is expected to make a statement before the financial markets open on Friday morning, once the result emerges, to reassure the City whose nervousness has been betrayed by volatility in the pound over the past few days.

One late poll conducted by ComRes for ITV and the Daily Mail, and including voters in Northern Ireland suggested that the remain campaign may have won over more voters as polling day approached, with "Remain" standing at 48 per cent against 42 per cent for "Leave", with 11 per cent still undecided. But most polls suggested the result was too close to call.

According to The Guardian, a No 10 insider insisted the mood was ''buoyant'' last night, despite concerns that poor weather could affect the turnout that remain campaigners are looking for to secure victory. Labour's grassroots supporters are expected to be essential to getting the vote out on Thursday.

A Vote Leave source insisted that the group had a strong and targeted ground operation, arguing that his opponents were visible but not behaving in a strategic way.

Brown's appearance in Birmingham last night alongside the man whose victory at the 2010 general election ejected him from Downing Street, was the last in the unlikely political alliances that have characterised this hard-fought campaign. The former Labour leader referred to Jo Cox, the MP murdered on 16 June (See: British Labour MP shot dead ahead of Brexit referendum), and criticised the tone of the referendum debate, in a speech which was greeted with cheers and whoops from a mixed audience of mainly Lib Dem, Tory and Labour activists.

''This is not the Britain I know, this is not the Britain I love. The Britain I know is better than the Britain of these debates, of insults, of posters,'' he said. ''The Britain I know is a Britain of Jo Cox. The Britain? where people are tolerant and not prejudiced and where people hate.''

The killing of Cox last week led to an abrupt pause in the bitter campaign, and came just after the extreme right-wing Ukip's leader, Nigel Farage, unveiled a van poster showing a line of refugees with the slogan Breaking Point.

Labour's leader Jeremy Corbyn, who held his own pro-EU rally in London on Wednesday, said campaigners on both sides had been brought up short by the terrible events of last Thursday. ''I think the debate has become more rational over the past few days, following the correct suspension of campaigning after Jo Cox's appalling killing,'' he told The Guardian.

Corbyn has sought to make a distinctive Labour argument for remaining in the EU, and was joined at his party's event by senior colleagues including the London mayor, Sadiq Khan. Khan urged an enthusiastic crowd of Labour activists at the rally to go out and convince their friends, family and neighbours to vote remain.

Punishing campaign
Cameron's rally at the University of Birmingham followed a punishing referendum campaign, which has split the ruling party and exposed damaging rifts over the impact of immigration from EU countries. The prime minister is already facing calls from some Tory donors and MPs to stand down regardless of whether Britain votes to remain or leave the EU.

The event was meant to emphasise the Remain campaign's broad cross-party appeal. It also included the former trade union leader Brendan Barber, the former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown, and business leaders.

But the divide within the Conservative party was laid bare once again in the final day of campaigning, with Cameron using his speech at the rally to attack Michael Gove for comparing the experts who have warned against Brexit to Nazis. ''That is the extent to which they have lost it,'' he said.

Gove, the justice secretary, who supports Brexit, had earlier apologised after comparing those saying a leave decision would cause recession to scientists paid by Hitler to devise the scientific results that were wanted by the state.

''We have to be careful about historical comparisons, but Albert Einstein during the 1930s was denounced by the German authorities for being wrong and his theories were denounced, and one of the reasons, of course, he was denounced was because he was Jewish,'' Gove said. ''They got 100 German scientists in the pay of the government to say that he was wrong and Einstein said, 'look, if I was wrong, one would have been enough'.''

Gove later said that his remarks had been ''clumsy and inappropriate''.

The bitter public spat between the two long-standing political allies underlined the battle facing Cameron as he seeks to reunite his party on Friday. Cameron has insisted that he will stay on whatever the result and press ahead with the priorities announced in last month's Queen's speech, including prison reform and measures to boost children's life chances. But few at Westminster believe he could survive for long if the British public back Brexit.

Meanwhile Ukip's leader, Nigel Farage, for whom Thursday's poll will be the culmination of a decades-long fight to sever Britain's ties with the rest of Europe, portrayed the campaign as the ''people against the establishment'' and urged non-voters to give the political class a shock. However, he pulled out of his final chance to make a public pitch on a Channel 4 television debate, citing family reasons.

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