'Remain' camp pulls ahead slightly in latest Brexit polls

First survey conducted since fatal attack on MP suggests attitudes may be shifting in favour of pro-EU campaign

A supporter for Vote Leave - the official campaign for a "Leave" vote - at a Hyde Park rally in London yesterday for Britain Stronger In Europe, the "Remain" campaign group seeking to avoid a Brexit.
A supporter for Vote Leave - the official campaign for a "Leave" vote - at a Hyde Park rally in London yesterday for Britain Stronger In Europe, the "Remain" campaign group seeking to avoid a Brexit.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • The Brexit campaign resumed yesterday with disagreements over immigration as both camps sought to tone down their rhetoric after the killing of Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox and new polls showed the "Remain" camp ahead with a slight lead.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that there would be "no turning back" from quitting the European Union, which would trigger a "probable recession".

In the same newspaper, pro-Brexit Justice Secretary Michael Gove said that rather than suffering a recession, the United Kingdom would thrive outside the EU, and urged a "vote for hope".

Mrs Cox's death after being attacked last Thursday sparked soul- searching within British politics over the increasingly rancorous tone of the debate over the United Kingdom's EU membership, ahead of a referendum this Thursday.

Thomas Mair, charged with murder, gave his name as "death to traitors, freedom for Britain" in a court appearance on Saturday.

"I hope because of the tragic death of Jo we can have a less divisive political debate in our country," Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said yesterday on ITV television's Peston on Sunday programme.

"This referendum vote is a vote on the kind of Britain we want. Do we want a prosperous, outward-looking Britain that's leading in Europe or do we want a meaner, narrower Britain that is poorer in every sense of the word?" he said.

In a sign that attitudes may be shifting, the first poll conducted since Mrs Cox's death put "Remain" ahead after most polls in recent days showed "Leave" with a lead or gaining ground. Staying in the bloc won 45 per cent of support in the Survation telephone poll of 1,001 adults conducted last Friday and Saturday for the Mail on Sunday.

"Leave" was endorsed by 42 per cent, reversing positions from Survation's previous survey. "We did have momentum until this terrible tragedy," UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said on Peston. "It's had an impact on the whole campaign for everybody."

The probability of a vote to leave the EU declined to just under 30 per cent yesterday from almost 40 per cent last Wednesday, according to bookmaker odds processed by the Oddschecker website.

This is the biggest drop in almost two weeks.

A survey by YouGov for the Sunday Times, a third of which was conducted before the attack, showed "Remain" on 44 per cent and "Leave" on 43 per cent.

The pollster said it doubted that the rise in backing for the EU was tied to Mrs Cox's killing and suggested that it might be related more to concerns about what Brexit would mean for the economy.

The death of Mrs Cox, a fervent supporter of remaining in the EU, created a dilemma for the "Leave" campaign, which has focused its campaign on the public's concern with immigration levels.

Mrs Cox was both a defender of immigrants and of refugees from Syria. In an article written four days before she died, she said the public had "legitimate concerns" about migration but that a Brexit would not guarantee lower migration levels.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline ''Remain' camp pulls ahead slightly in latest Brexit polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe