Final Brexit Appeals Made as Polls Diverge on Referendum Eveby , , and
ComRes survey late Wednesday shows Remain ahead, boosts pound
Polling booths open at 7 a.m. Thursday for vote on EU future
Brexit’s advocates and opponents made 11th-hour appeals to voters on the eve of the U.K.’s referendum on European Union membership, with opinion polls on the last day of campaigning suggesting the ballot could go either way.
Three of four surveys published Wednesday depicted a contest that’s too close to call, with two percentage points or less separating the camps. A fourth poll showed a clear lead for Remain, which is also favored by Britain’s bookmakers. The pound, which has tended to slide when the Leave campaign showed signs of momentum, extended gains to reach its highest level this year against the dollar.
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With voting booths set to open at 7 a.m. on Thursday -- and with a record 46.5 million Britons registered to cast ballots -- the rivals in an often-vitriolic debate made their closing pitches.
Prime Minister David Cameron targeted the “Leave” campaign’s mantra that quitting the EU would mean “taking control” of policy on issues from the economy to immigration. “We are not shackled to a corpse,” Cameron said.
Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, a leader of the Leave campaign, kicked off a tour of the U.K. by plane, holding a salmon almost to his lips at the city’s Billingsgate Fish Market -- a nod to the island nation. “This is our last chance to take back control and it’s worth fighting for,” Johnson told Sky News.
Late on Wednesday, as the campaign’s last televised debate unfolded, a poll by ComRes for the Daily Mail and ITV News put the Remain vote on 48 percent, to 42 percent for Leave with 11 percent undecided. And a YouGov study for the Times had the pro-EU camp ahead 51 percent to 49 percent, after excluding voters who haven’t made up their minds.
But earlier on Wednesday, two online surveys found the Leave campaign ahead by one or two percentage points.
The pound, which fluctuated with the various polling data, gained above 1.48 against the dollar in late trading and The Bloomberg British Pound Index, which tracks sterling against seven major peers, also advanced. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations will issue a joint statement stressing readiness to take all necessary steps to calm markets should Britain vote to leave the EU, Reuters reported, citing unidentified government officials with direct knowledge of preparations.
The final hours before balloting begins saw a return to intense campaigning by both sides, after a halt last week following the murder of Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox, a supporter of staying in the EU.
“Let’s vote for jobs, let’s vote for rights at work, vote for great opportunities for everyone,” Sadiq Khan, mayor of London and a Remain backer, told a rally of Labour Party supporters in the north of the capital. “This is the fight of our lives. Let’s win this.”
‘May Be Tight’
Speaking to supporters in central London, U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage invoked Winston Churchill, the Falklands war and cricketer Ian Botham to rally enthusiasm for his vision of a future outside the EU. “It may be tight, it may be narrow, but I believe we are going to win,” Farage said.
From outside the U.K., European leaders warned of the consequences of a so-called Brexit one last time. In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the referendum result will be final. “Out is out,” he said. “British policy makers and British voters have to know that there will be no kind of renegotiation.”
“Out is out,” echoed French President Francois Hollande in Paris. He said there’s a “serious risk” that the U.K. could lose access to the EU’s common market -- putting British exporters at a disadvantage. The Remain camp has repeatedly cited that as a risk, while Leave has argued that new arrangements can ensure continued trade privileges from outside the EU.
In his final campaign event, Cameron urged undecided voters to “put jobs first, put the economy first, put your children’s future first, put our future first as a country.” Anyone in doubt should vote “Remain,” he said at the University of Birmingham.
Speaking at the same event, former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an impassioned plea to voters to back staying in the EU.
“The Britain that I know is the Britain of Jo Cox, the Britain where people are tolerant and not prejudiced,” he said. “I want us to take control again so that unity replaces division. We will be no less British as a result of cooperating with our neighbors.”