EU Referendum

Jitters all around as June 23 looms

Ukip leader Nigel Farage, whose campaigning has been characterised by anti-immigration rhetoric, unveiled a new poster showing a long line of refugees with the headline "Breaking Point", prompting pro-EU activists to launch vans sporting posters ridi
Ukip leader Nigel Farage, whose campaigning has been characterised by anti-immigration rhetoric, unveiled a new poster showing a long line of refugees with the headline "Breaking Point", prompting pro-EU activists to launch vans sporting posters ridiculing him.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Britons have been bombarded with pro- and anti-EU messages everywhere - even at the Royal Ascot Racecourse (above), and beyond Britain too. A Dutch newspaper's front-page headline (top) last Wednesday said Don't Leave Me This Way.
A Dutch newspaper's front-page headline (above) last Wednesday said Don't Leave Me This Way.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Ukip leader Nigel Farage, whose campaigning has been characterised by anti-immigration rhetoric, unveiled a new poster showing a long line of refugees with the headline "Breaking Point", prompting pro-EU activists to launch vans sporting posters ridi
Britons have been bombarded with pro- and anti-EU messages everywhere - even at the Royal Ascot Racecourse (above), and beyond Britain too. PHOTO: REUTERS

Campaign fatigue setting in as both camps go full throttle in last-ditch bid to sway voters

As referendum day draws near, Ms Yee-Liu Williams is all nerves as she follows news reports that the "Leave" camp has surged ahead.

With less than a week to go, support for Brexit has surpassed that for the "Remain" camp based on all the latest polls; the uncertainty that showed in surveys up until two weeks ago has now given way to a clear preference for a Leave vote.

"To abandon any solidarity with our European neighbours for an illusionary sovereignty is an act of foolishness and naivety for which the younger generation and future generations would have to pay for," said the communications consultant born and raised in London. "We are not the power base that we believe we are.  The Brexit camp is delusional to their powers and there is no guarantee in what they are claiming," the 50-year-old added.

Across the country, campaigning has cranked up to full throttle as pro- and anti-EU advocates make a last-ditch bid to sway voters to their end.  Tonight, Prime Minister David Cameron is scheduled to appear on BBC TV to field questions from a live audience; his political rival but fellow Remain campaigner, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, will make his first and only TV appearance tomorrow.

On Tuesday, the biggest pow-wow of this referendum will take place at the Wembley Arena between former London mayor Boris Johnson, the star of the Leave campaign, and new mayor Sadiq Khan.

ENOUGH ALREADY

It's gone on long enough. I think I've had enough of being bombarded on both fronts.

MR ROB MEYERS, a courier, one of many Britons who have had enough of the campaigning by both sides.

As the battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate enters the last lap, the showdown has intensified and even turned ugly.

Last Thursday, UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Nigel Farage, whose campaigning has been characterised by anti-immigration rhetoric, unveiled a new poster showing a long line of refugees with the headline Breaking Point.

It swiftly drew a barrage of criticisms, with his rivals accusing him of "Nazi-style propaganda" and pro-EU activists disrupting his press conference in several vans sporting posters ridiculing him.

Just a day earlier, there was mayhem on the Thames river as Mr Farage and his flotilla of "Leave" fishing boats clashed with rock star Bob Geldof's "In" fleet.

 

But the fierce fighting halted on Thursday after Labour MP Jo Cox was shot dead by 52-year-old Thomas Mair, who has a history of mental illness and alleged links to far-right extremism. He was charged with murder yesterday.

Both camps suspended campaigning as a mark of respect, but the incident cast a pall over the intensely divisive referendum due on June 23.

As Mrs Cox had been a fervent "Remain" advocate, analysts say her tragic death may well boost the "In" camp.

 

MPs have also called for soul-searching over the tone of the referendum debate, which has been up until now overwhelmingly negative, divisive and caustic.

Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, writing for The Guardian, said: "Unless we strive for a culture of respect to replace a culture which does too little to challenge prejudice, we will be learning nothing from what happened to Jo."

Both camps have said they will be more restrained in the final few days of campaigning.

 Still, Brexit jitters saw the British pound fall to a two-month low early last week and led bookies to slash the odds further, though still favouring Remain. And with economists warning of a property crash in the event of an EU exit, potential home buyers are being enticed with an exit clause in their contracts.

The shift in sentiment has unnerved not only pro-EU Britons, but also EU citizens living and working in the country, who do not have a say in the referendum.

Mr Piotr Kosciewicz, 34, a Polish postgraduate student who has called London home for 13 years and is a permanent resident, says many questions remain unanswered if Britain bows out of the EU. "I don't think they will strip me of my status. My concern would be if my family members came to visit me, would they have to apply for visas?  That would just make things more difficult," he said.

But for many Britons, campaign fatigue has set in, especially just a year after the country held a hotly contested general election.

Mr Cameron first promised the nation a referendum as early as 2013 on condition that his Conservative party win the 2015 General Election. In February, he announced June 23 would be referendum day. Official campaigning kicked off in April. The on-going Euro 2016 tournament is also a distraction.

"It's gone on long enough. I think I've had enough of being bombarded on both fronts," said Mr Rob Meyers, 42, a courier who wants "Out".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'Jitters all around as June 23 looms'. Print Edition | Subscribe