Cameron Vies to Seize Initiative From ‘Leave’ in Brexit Campaign

Do the Math: An Economist's Guide to Brexit
  • Prime minister says statements on ‘Leave’ leaflets ‘not true’
  • Johnson says Cameron’s Remain campaign has nothing to offer

The U.K. referendum on European Union membership entered its final stages as David Cameron tried to capitalize on a swing in momentum back to the “Remain” campaign and former London Mayor Boris Johnson accused the prime minister of having nothing to offer voters.

Brexit Watch: The pound, the polls, and the probability of Brexit, all in one place

The pound jumped the most since 2008 Monday as investors grew more confident British voters will opt to stay in the EU on June 23. The referendum is being watched by governments and investors around the world amid concern that a so-called Brexit would spark turmoil across global markets.

Both sides returned to the fray after suspending the campaign for 60 hours following the murder of Labour lawmaker Jo Cox. The prime minister, taking audience questions on a BBC television special Sunday, accused his opponents of lying over immigration, the price of membership and a European army, while arguing a Brexit would hurt the economy. He also took to Twitter to highlight Cox’s pro-EU views.

“It would be a tragedy if we damaged our economy and wrecked job prospects in our country on the basis of three things that are completely untrue,” a visibly riled Cameron said.

Click here for a guide on what to look out for on the night of the vote count

The pound surged against the dollar for its biggest gain since December 2008 and sterling volatility retreated following polls published Sunday showing “Remain” regaining the lead that it had lost in recent weeks. The pound was up 2 percent at $1.4639 as of 12:54 p.m. in London.

Writing in the Telegraph newspaper on Monday, Johnson urged Britons to “change the whole course of European history,” saying leaving the EU would be “overwhelmingly positive” for the U.K.

“What is the Remain camp offering?” Johnson said. “Nothing. No change, no improvement, no reform; nothing but the steady and miserable erosion of parliamentary democracy in this country.”

Soul Searching

Parliament has been recalled Monday so that lawmakers from all parties can pay tribute to Cox, who was shot and stabbed as she attended a meeting with constituents.  Her death led to soul-searching among politicians about the rancorous nature of the Brexit debate. In a sign of unity, some lawmakers may sit on opposing benches in the House of Commons for the session. Cameron on Sunday tweeted a link to her final commentary piece.

Elsewhere in the campaign:

  • Ten Nobel-winning economists wrote to the Guardian newspaper saying Britain is better off inside the EU
  • German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said EU policy makers have safeguards in place to avoid “chaotic developments” should Britons vote to leave
  • British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the vote will be “a very tight result either way” and if Leave wins, “there will be no going back”
  • The pressure group Migration Watch said migrants cost the U.K. as much as 17 billion pounds ($25 billion) a year, without explaining how it arrived at the figure
  • U.S. billionaire Wilbur Ross told Bloomberg Television a Leave vote would be the “most expensive divorce proceeding in the history of the world”
  • The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders issued a statement stressing the importance of Britain remaining in the EU

Xenophobic Campaign

The death of Cox, who defended immigrants and refugees, has created difficulties for “Leave” whose main campaign message is that Brexit will enable Britain to regain control of its borders and stem the flow of EU immigrants. On Monday, former Conservative Party Chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi said she has switched to “Remain” because of the “Leave” campaign’s “nudge nudge, wink wink, xenophobic racist campaign.”

“Day after day, what are we hearing?” Warsi said in a BBC Radio interview. “The refugees are coming, the rapists are coming, the Turks are coming; linking the Turks to criminality, the extremists are coming.”

Speaking to the same program on Monday, U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage defended the focus on immigration, saying “the central point of this campaign is that we want to control our country and part of that is controlling our borders.”

‘Terrible Tragedy’

Yesterday, he suggested Cox’s killing had hurt the “Leave” campaign, saying “we did have momentum until this terrible tragedy.”

Thomas Mair, charged with Cox’s murder, gave his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” in a court appearance on Saturday.

In his BBC appearance, Cameron repeated his message that departing the EU would be a risk, and that most economists warn it would damage the economy.

“When I’m thinking of buying a house, I listen to an expert,” he said. “When I’m thinking of getting into a car, I listen to the mechanic. If I want to build a bridge, I want an engineer. People in the ‘Leave’ campaign are asking you to trust in just a sense that it’s going to be OK. I don’t think that’s good enough.”

Cameron was backed by two of Britain’s most popular car experts: Jeremy Clarkson and James May, longtime presenters of BBC Television’s “Top Gear” program who now present a new motoring show, “The Grand Tour.” Standing in front of a map of Europe, Clarkson said in a video supporting the “Remain” camp that “leaving the EU would mean so much more red tape that “every single time we wanted to go to any one of these countries” it would take ”what, a hundred years.”

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