British Prime Minister David Cameron and his eurosceptic opponents made final pitches for wavering voters on Wednesday on the eve of a defining referendum on European Union membership with the outcome still too close to call.
The vote, which echoes the rise of populism elsewhere in Europe and the United States, will shape the continent’s future. A victory for “out” could unleash turmoil on financial markets and foreign exchange bureaux reported a surge in demand for foreign currency from Britons wary sterling may fall.
“Quitting Europe is a risk to your family’s future because a vote to leave on Thursday means there is no going back on Friday,” Cameron said.
Most pollsters said the result was too close to predict, and would depend on turnout on the day and any late swing among the substantial number of undecided voters.
“It’s our last chance to sort this out and take back control,” said former London mayor Boris Johnson, the main leader of the Leave campaign and favorite with bookmakers to replace Cameron in the event of Brexit.
Cameron has promised further reform if Britain stays in the EU, but European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned there would be no further renegotiation whatever the result on Thursday, after EU leaders reached a deal on a new settlement for Britain in February.
French President Francois Hollande said a vote to leave could seriously jeopardize British access to the EU’s prized single market.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she did not want to speculate on what dangers would arise if Britain left, because she wanted it to stay in the Union.
Much of the debate has boiled down to two issues: the economy and immigration.
Supporters of a so-called Brexit have struck a chord with many voters by saying Britain would regain control of immigration if it cut itself loose from a bloc they see as domineering and out of touch.
In what has become an ugly and personal fight, both camps have been accused of using unfounded assertions and scare tactics. Remain campaigners accuse their opponents of resorting to the politics of hate; the Leave camp say their rivals have run a “Project Fear” to scare voters about the economic risks.
Both sides hit the road and the airwaves to appeal to the large number of undecided voters who will be decisive, along with the level of turnout.
Johnson was flying around Britain in a helicopter to spread the Brexit message, making an unashamed play to British patriotism by declaring Thursday could be “independence day”.
The leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage, also played the nationalist card in an address to supporters in London.
“At the end of the day tomorrow when people vote they must make a decision – which flag is theirs? I want us to live under British passports and under the British flag,” he said.
World leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and NATO and Commonwealth allies have urged Britain to remain in the EU.
Cameron’s personal future also hangs on the result. The EU issue has divided his Conservative Party since the days of his distant predecessor Margaret Thatcher, bringing an end to her decade in office in 1990.
A vote to leave would almost certainly cost him the top job, though he has said he will stay. But even narrow backing for remain could undermine his authority and shorten his term.
A Brexit vote could also lead to a wider political crisis in Britain and fragment the post-Cold War European order.
Full article: On eve of defining British EU referendum, rivals race for final votes (Reuters)