In the shadow of a murder, Britain to vote on EU membership

In the shadow of a murder, Britain to vote on EU membership
# 20 June 2016 22:01 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Britons will shape the future of the United Kingdom and Europe on Thursday when they decide whether to stay in the European Union following a campaign that has shown the potency of anti-establishment feeling in the West, APA reports quoting Reuters.

The vote comes a week after the murder of a lawmaker in the street left many voters wondering whether the campaign rhetoric on both sides - warnings of economic disaster versus uncontrolled immigration - had gone too far in a country considered a paragon of stability.

Whatever the outcome, the referendum could force the EU to rethink how it governs 500 million citizens and - along with the rise of Donald Trump in the United States - have far-reaching implications for the future configuration of the West.

Allies such as U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have implored Britain to stay in the bloc, which they say has given Europe decades of prosperity after centuries of bloodshed.

Investors, chief executives and central bankers are bracing for what could be one of the most volatile events for financial markets since, at least, the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who promised the referendum in 2013 under pressure from euroskeptic lawmakers in his own party, has mixed rhetoric about his island nation's history with dire warnings about the costs and dangers of a Brexit.

"This referendum has now become a watershed moment for our country," Cameron said when campaigning resumed after a two-and-a-half-day suspension called as a sign of respect for lawmaker Jo Cox, who was shot and stabbed last week.

"There is no turning back if we leave," he added, warning this would be "an abject and self-imposed humiliation" that would leave "a permanently poorer country in every sense".

The murder of Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two young children who was an ardent supporter of EU membership, shocked the country and abruptly changed the tone of the caustic campaigning that has polarized the country.

Both sides have accused their opponents of misleading the public, and critics say the debate had descended into a negative row over the economic dangers of leaving versus the difficulties of limiting immigration if Britain stays.

Witnesses to the Cox attack said the accused, 52-year-old Thomas Mair, was heard saying "Britain first, keep Britain independent, Britain always comes first". Such comments added to speculation the murder was politically-motivated, making it a potentially defining moment in the referendum.

Campaigners said events and leafleting would go ahead as planned this week, but the rhetoric would be scaled back.

"People are thinking carefully about the conduct of this campaign, perhaps taking a more respectful tone towards opponents," said a "Stronger In" campaign source. Leave officials would not discuss the details of their campaign plans.

Voting begins at 0600 GMT on June 23 and closes at 2100. Results are due around 0000-0500 GMT the next day.

Opinion polls have painted a contradictory and volatile picture of British public opinion with Remain ahead for much of the campaign but Leave taking a late lead before the Cox murder.

A vote to leave could unleash turmoil on foreign exchange, equity and bond markets, lead to a political crisis in Britain and fragment the post-Cold War European order.

The EU would have to weather the exit of its No.2 economy representing $2.9 trillion of its gross domestic product, the only European financial capital to rival New York and one of its only two nuclear powers, while Britain's economy could stall.

A vote to remain would trigger a rise in sterling and relief in Western capitals but would still leave Britain - and Cameron's ruling Conservative Party - deeply divided.