Brexit polls split as Britain prepares to vote in EU referendum

By Martin Smith  |  June 22, 2016 at 2:38 PM
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LONDON, June 22 (UPI) -- Britons are preparing to head to the polls Thursday to decide whether the country will remain in the European Union, a decision advance surveys indicate is not a foregone conclusion.

An ORB survey of 800 people for the Daily Telegraph newspaper showed 49 percent are in favor of the "remain" campaign to stay in the EU compared to 47 who favor the "leave" campaign.

Two other polls put the "leave" side slightly ahead of "remain." An online poll by TNS surveying 2,320 adults favors "leave" by 2 points, with 43 percent of the vote. An Opinium poll of 3,011 people shows "leave" with the lead at 45 percent compared to 44 percent who want to remain.

In the run-up to the referendum, British politicians have been making their final pitches to a fiercely divided electorate. Of the United Kingdom's 64 million population, a record 46 million people have registered to vote.

Their decision will shape the direction of the country and its place in the world for decades.

Even politicians of the same political shade are divided on the so-called Brexit, or British exit, from the 28-nation European Union, an outcome that would be a huge blow to the bloc.

While Prime Minister David Cameron is leading the campaign to stay in the EU, his senior Conservative colleague and former London Mayor Boris Johnson has been outspokenly in favor of leaving, saying that if his side is successful it will be "Britain's Independence Day."

Should Britain vote to quit the European Union, Cameron could be forced to resign as prime minister and be replaced by Johnson.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Cameron said a vote to leave the EU would be bad for Britain and Europe.

"Once you have jumped out of the aeroplane, you can't scramble back through the door," he said.

"There is no way back in. This is an irreversible decision with very bad consequences for the British economy."

Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown has aligned himself with Cameron.

"There is no road to the future of this country ... that doesn't run through the countries of Europe," he declared. "If you want jobs to remain, vote remain."

His predecessor Tony Blair described the vote as "probably the biggest decision the country will have taken since the Second World War."

Even celebrities have revealed which way they will be voting. The likes of J.K Rowling, Benedict Cumberbatch and Richard Branson are backing the campaign to remain, while Michael Caine, inventor James Dyson and Elizabeth Hurley are among those wanting to leave.

French President Francois Hollande warned Wednesday that it was more than Britain's future in the EU that hung in the balance. "It is the future of the European Union," he said.

"The departure of a country that is, geographically, historically, politically in the European Union would have extremely serious consequences. It would also have extremely serious consequences for them, too."

President Barack Obama, too, has urged Britons to vote to stay in.

Campaigning was suspended for two days through Saturday night as a mark of respect for British lawmaker Jo Cox, who was stabbed and shot to death last Thursday. Cox was a member of the opposition Labour Party and supporter of the pro-EU campaign.

Her alleged killer, 52-year-old Thomas Mair, gave his name as "Death to traitors, freedom for Britain" at his first appearance in court after being charged with her murder.

The result of the referendum is expected to be declared during the early hours of Friday morning.

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