British voters head to the polls for EU referendum

Sunday 19/06/2016
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage (L) campaigning for Brexit

LONDON - Voters head to the polls for a national referendum on British membership in the European Union but more than the United Kingdom’s future in Europe hangs in the balance, with the viability of Prime Minister David Cameron’s government also at stake.

The What UK Thinks poll of polls (which is based on the average share of the vote in the six most recent polls) had the vote split directly 50- 50 between Leave and Remain as the campaign moved into its final days.

The killing of Labour MP Jo Cox on June 16th cast a pall over the fi­nal week of the campaign. It was reporting that she was killed by a man with ties to far-right groups. Cox was pro-Remain. Both sides suspended campaigning after the attack, with analysts differing on what impact her death would have on the vote.

The Remain campaign, which is being backed by Cameron and the opposition Labour Party, had been consistently ahead in the polls in the months leading up to the vote. However, the Leave campaign, which is being championed by the charismatic former London mayor Boris Johnson among other senior Conservative Party figures, gained momentum as the campaign pro­gressed.

Should the Remain campaign fail, political analysts said they would expect Cameron to step down as prime minister in favour of a pro- Leave rival, such as Johnson or Justice Secretary Michael Gove. Al­though Cameron has said he would seek to continue as prime minister few expect him to hold onto the po­sition in the event of Brexit.

Both campaigns increasingly fo­cused on negative campaigning, with Vote Leave warning of the ef­fects that unrestricted immigra­tion would have on the country and Vote Remain warning of economic and security repercussions of leav­ing the European Union. Both sides used contradictory statistics to back their messages, leaving the public confused.

“I totally accept that people are confused by having so many statis­tics and there is a lot of frustration because of that but I think it’s actu­ally my job as prime minister, when you’ve got these warnings coming from the governor of the Bank of England, from the International Monetary Fund, it’s my responsi­bility to talk about them,” Cameron said June 12th on the BBC1 Andrew Marr Show.

The bitter contest between the Leave and Remain campaigns means that many British voters re­main unsure how they would vote even in the week leading up to the referendum. Up to 30% of voters were said to be undecided or would change the way they would cast their ballot before the vote with half of those deciding which way they would vote on polling day it­self, research by academics at the London School of Economics (LSE) revealed.

The Impact of Brexit on Consum­er Behaviour, a report based on re­search by LES Professor of Political Science Michael Bruter, said with polls so close, the results of the ref­erendum would be decided in the final days of campaigning.

“This is the period when the campaign reaches its climax and most people not really interested in politics but still voting will only pay close attention to the vote at this very late time,” Bruter said in his report. “In the last week, emo­tions run at their highest and when the vote starts feeling concrete and voters sense the atmosphere of the election… it is only in the final weeks that the vote feels less ab­stract and more ‘real’ to them.

“It is the period when people sud­denly declare being aware of a sense of responsibility on their shoulders as the solemnity of the vote makes them inhabit their ‘role’ as citizens. As a result, they become significant­ly more sociotropic — interested in what is best for the country and not just for them,” he added.