Brexit referendum: World watches as Britons vote on EU question

Latest polls suggest referendum result could go either way; businesses nervous over Brexit

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Millions of people around the UK are voting in a key referendum to decide whether to leave or remain in the European Union.
British PM David Cameron (far left) meeting Vote Remain supporters at a rally in Bristol yesterday.
British PM David Cameron (far left) meeting Vote Remain supporters at a rally in Bristol yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Voters cast their ballot today after a bruising battle for Britain's future was waged to the bitter end with both camps still uncertain if the country would leave the European Union.

Not just Europe, but also the rest of the world, including Asia and Singapore, has been watching the referendum closely, with countries and businesses nervous that a Brexit, or British exit, might spark turmoil in global markets.

Yesterday, politicians made a last-ditch attempt on the last day of campaigning to woo undecided voters, pleading their case on national television and at rallies, and criss-crossing cities in their battle buses to push their message one last time.

After several worrying weeks for the Remain camp led by Prime Minister David Cameron, when polls showed it had fallen behind the rival Leave camp, fresh polls over the weekend suggested that the result could go either way.

Yesterday, Mr Cameron acknowledged the hot-button issue of immigration, which has been at the heart of the Leave campaign, promising that reforms will continue tomorrow should Britons vote "In".

"There are good ways to control immigration but leaving the EU, leaving the single market, damaging our economy, must be the wrong answer," he said in a television interview on the BBC.

In his final speech yesterday, UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage took to waving his passport in a bid to illustrate that Britain has lost its sovereignty: "We don't even have a British passport any more. We've got a European Union one - which of course is available to 508 million people."

Borrowing Leave campaigner Boris Johnson's war cry, Mr Farage urged voters to make June 23 "our independence day".

That rallying cry had earned a rousing ovation for Mr Johnson in the referendum's biggest debate on Tuesday night, even as he was attacked by London Mayor Sadiq Khan on stage for orchestrating "project hate" and playing up fears of uncontrolled immigration.

Amid the campaigning, the country paused to mark slain Labour MP Jo Cox's 42nd birthday yesterday, with tributes held in Lon- don's Trafalgar Square as well as in Washington DC, Dublin, Brussels, Oslo, Buenos Aires and Auckland.

Remain advocates had hoped that Mrs Cox, a fervent Remain supporter, had not died in vain; polls after her death pointed to the "In" camp gaining some ground.

Mr Brendan Cox said on Tuesday that his wife died for her strong political views, and was concerned about the "coarsening" of the referendum debate. The MP was shot and stabbed in Birstall, West Yorkshire, last Thursday by a self-professed political activist.

Former minister Yvette Cooper yesterday also made a police report after she received a Twitter death threat against her family.

The new developments could, according to polls, sway the 11 per cent of undecided voters. Some 46.5 million people are expected to vote when polling opens at 7am today (2pm Singapore time). After polling closes at 10pm, the 382 local counting areas will declare results independently through the night.

The final national result is expected tomorrow morning (UK time).

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline Brexit referendum: World watches as Britons vote on EU question. Subscribe