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Brexit referendum

Asia keenly watching result of Brexit referendum

Fears of Brexit have prompted some of Asia's leaders to hint that they would like to see a Remain vote

Asia is closely watching the outcome of Britain's European Union referendum, with a vote to leave threatening to unravel the United Kingdom and reverberate across Asia, affecting trade and financial markets.

Voting booths closed at 10pm in Britain yesterday and results from most areas should be in by this morning Singapore time.

Lightning storms in south-east England and rain in the capital kept some of the 46.5 million registered voters indoors yesterday morning, but many still voted despite floods and downpours.

Elsewhere, some turned up at voting booths even before the scheduled 7am start.

A heavy turnout is considered favourable for Remain, whose backers include some iconic British figures such as Sir Richard Branson and football star David Beckham. A Leave vote could threaten Britain's unity, with pro-Europe Scotland - whose people tend to be enthusiastic voters - likely to seek a split with Britain. It could also lead some other European nations to re-examine the merits of staying in the EU.

South-east Asia, where the EU is the biggest investor, ahead of the United States and Japan combined, is also keenly watching.

Trading on Asian share markets was mostly thin yesterday, as traders awaited the result.

IMMIGRATION A KEY ISSUE

The issue that matters is immigration. They're just coming in willy-nilly. You see it in the papers every day, they're getting on lorries, coming over from Calais (in France).

RETIREE BARRY MARTIN, 69, outside a polling station in Biggin Hill, a commuter town south of London.


IMPORTANT DECISION FOR COUNTRY

It's one of the most important decisions this country will make. It affects everyone.

CARPENTER LIAM COLLINS, 45, after casting his ballot for Remain at a polling station in south-east London.

Analysts say Brexit would leave Europe without Britain's balancing voice and enhance security risks as intelligence sharing becomes more complicated. Britain is also the top destination for many Asian nations investing in Europe, including Singapore.

The referendum, which has split the ruling Conservative Party, is heavily focused on immigration and the economy.

Britons endured months of bitter campaigning by both camps, each painting dire scenarios.

The passions raised cost at least one life - Labour MP Jo Cox, who was pro-EU, was murdered in her constituency on June 16.

Fears that the cliff-hanger vote could go the Brexit way have prompted Asia's most influential leaders to hint they'd like to see a Remain vote, without overtly saying so.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday that China is paying close attention to the referendum and Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for a "prosperous Europe and a united European Union".

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has described Britain as India's gateway to the continent and said "India always stands for a strong and united Europe".

 

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The Remain camp had reached out to key Asian nations to put pressure on their diaspora.

British Indians are the largest Asian immigrant group in Britain, numbering 1.5 million. British Pakistanis are next at 1.1 million, while the Chinese and Sri Lankan communities number slightly less than half a million each.

While several Asian nations are lending tacit support to Prime Minister David Cameron to stave off a Brexit, Sri Lanka has been the most public so far, Asian diplomatic sources said.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe sent his deputy chief of staff to Britain to reach out to the Sri Lankan community.

In a letter seen by The Straits Times, Mr Wickremesinghe warned British Sri Lankans that Brexit would have an "adverse impact on the economy of Sri Lanka as well as their own".

"Your vote, as Sri Lankan-born UK citizens, is of utmost importance for the country you are living in as well as your motherland Sri Lanka," he wrote.

Immigration has become even more of a hot-button issue after large numbers of European emigres from Bulgaria, Poland and Romania arrived following the EU's expansion. Britain's population rose by 513,000 last year to a record 65 million.

Net migration accounted for 335,635 of the increase, underscoring a key criticism of the Leave camp that Britain needs tougher immigration controls.

The new migrants have fuelled public anger and worry about wages and welfare benefits, and rattled not just white Britons but older immigrants from Asia as well.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'Asia keenly watching result of EU referendum Brexit referendum'. Print Edition | Subscribe