British MP's murder sobers up EU vote campaign: Analysts

A woman looks at tributes left for Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox in Parliament Square, London, on June 17, 2016.
A woman looks at tributes left for Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox in Parliament Square, London, on June 17, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - The murder of pro-European lawmaker Jo Cox will have a sobering effect on the final days of campaigning for Britain's EU referendum and could boost the "Remain" side, analysts said Friday (June 17).

Campaigning for the June 23 vote was suspended for two days following Thursday's brutal attack on the opposition Labour MP in her constituency in northern England, bringing a heated and divisive race to an abrupt halt.

"It has been a rather bitter campaign, with personality conflicts. It might calm people down in a more sober manner," Wyn Grant, professor of politics at Warwick University, told AFP.

Opinion polls suggest the referendum is too close to call, although two new surveys published in the hours before Cox died suggested Britain was on course to end its 43-year membership of the European Union.

 

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said the "Leave" campaign in particular may now have to tone down its rhetoric, which has taken a strong anti-establishment tone in recent weeks.

"The argument is that the establishment says we can't leave," he told AFP. But Cox's murder means that "demonising (the establishment) will be off limits," he said.

"The 'Leave' side may have to be a little careful with their language," he added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had on Friday also urged British politicians to moderate the language used in their campaigns ahead of the Brexit vote.

"The exaggerations and radicalisation of part of the language do not help to foster an atmosphere of respect," she said, in response to a question on the killing of the British lawmaker Jo Cox. "That's why we all value democratic game rules. And we know how important it is to draw limits, be it in the choice of speech, in the choice of the argument but also in the choice of partly disparaging argument," she said, calling for the beliefs of others to be respected.

The Times newspaper concurred, noting: "That Ms Cox was a mother as well as a dedicated public servant means that attacks on the 'political class' or 'Westminster elites' are likely to be off-limits."

However, Curtice said the suspension of campaigning could also hurt the "Remain" side, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, which needs time to regain the lead.

"It is not to the advantage of 'Remain' as they need any hour available to convince the undecided," he said.

A writer for Conservative-supporting Spectator magazine, blamed the "Leave" campaign for raising tensions.

"When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged," wrote Alex Massie in an online article that quickly went viral.

Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper, who backs the "Remain" vote, told BBC radio: "We don't yet know the circumstances of this case but there has been an increase in vitriol, I think, in public debate."

The prospect of Britain leaving the EU had weighed on financial markets and sent the pound tumbling amid fears of the potential economic fall-out of a Brexit.

But European and Asian stock markets rebounded strongly Friday, as did the pound, lifted by expectations that Britain will now stay in, economic analysts said.

The advance of European stocks "follows gains in both the US and Asia that can be attributed to diminished fears of a UK exit from the European Union", said Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets.