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EU referendum campaigners in final push for votes

Published 22/06/2016

David Cameron on a walkabout after he addressed Vote Remain supporters during a rally in Bristol
David Cameron on a walkabout after he addressed Vote Remain supporters during a rally in Bristol

Months of campaigning for the EU referendum have come to a frenetic climax as rival camps criss-crossed the country in a desperate last-minute push for the winning line.

With polling stations opening across the UK at 7am on Thursday, a flurry of eve-of-referendum polls suggested the result is still too close to call, with TNS giving the Brexit camp a 43%-41% advantage and Opinium Research putting Leave ahead by 45% to 44%, while FTI Consulting gave Remain the edge by 51.4% to 48.6% once "don't knows" are stripped out.

David Cameron campaigned alongside Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green figures in a cross-party Remain battle-bus tour, which saw former prime minister Sir John Major denounce the Leave campaign as "the gravediggers of our prosperity".

Leave standard-bearer Boris Johnson kicked off the last day of the campaign with a visit to Billingsgate fish market in London, before flying across the country to tell voters that June 23 can be "independence day". He posed for selfies and signed autographs from Maldon in Essex to Ashby-de-la-Zouch, where he was heckled by 17-year-old Will Taylor, who said: "I'm annoyed that I can't vote and as a young person it's my future."

Wrapping up his whirlwind tour in Darlington, the former London mayor said Leave was "on the verge of victory" as he urged voters to "believe in our country" and back Brexit despite the warnings of "Project Fear".

"This will not come again," said Mr Johnson. "Vote Leave tomorrow, take back control of our country and our democracy and stick up for hundreds of millions of people around Europe who agree with us, who agree that the EU is going in the wrong direction."

Mr Cameron joined Labour's former PM Gordon Brown, former TUC boss Sir Brendan Barber and Lib Dem leader Tim Farron at a rally in Birmingham, where he told voters: "We are stronger, we are better off, we are safer in a reformed European Union and that's why we should vote Remain tomorrow in the largest possible numbers."

The Prime Minister said the referendum vote was "a choice of a lifetime" and voters should "think of your children and your grandchildren ... we don't want to cut them off from opportunity, cut them off from the world, we want to give them the best chance. That's why we should vote Remain tomorrow."

The Remain campaign could be summed up in the word "together", said the PM, adding: "There's no problem we are facing in our world today or facing in our country today that isn't helped by working together."

Insisting he was "passionate and ... wildly patriotic" about the UK, Mr Cameron said: "The sort of Great Britain I want - an even greater country - doesn't walk away, it doesn't quit, it stands and it fights."

His wartime predecessor Sir Winston Churchill "didn't give up on European democracy ... He didn't walk away and we shouldn't walk away now," said Mr Cameron.

But Mr Johnson said it was "time to break away from the failing and dysfunctional EU system", telling activists in Maldon: "I do think that we are on the verge, possibly, of an extraordinary event in the history of our country and indeed in the whole of Europe.

"It's all going to be about getting our supporters out to vote and if we do it I really think tomorrow can be independence day."

Ukip leader Nigel Farage told his final event of the campaign in London: "At the end of the day tomorrow when people vote they have to make a decision - which flag is theirs? I want us to live under British passports and under the British flag."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - who has been accused of campaigning in a half-hearted way - urged the party's supporters to "get out on to the streets" and persuade people to vote Remain. He attacked the Leave camp for its focus on immigration, saying: "Don't blame the migrant worker for being exploited, blame the company that's exploiting them."

Mr Cameron insisted he expects to remain prime minister even if voters choose Brexit, telling the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I will accept the instructions of the British people and get to work on Friday morning to deliver them."

Mr Johnson - touted by many as a potential replacement if Mr Cameron is forced to step down - agreed that the PM should "stay under any circumstances".

Meanwhile prominent Leave campaigner Michael Gove was forced to say sorry after comparing economists who have warned of the dangers of Brexit to scientists in the pay of the Nazis who smeared Albert Einstein in the 1930s.

After a scathing slapdown from Mr Cameron - who said his old friend and Cabinet colleague appeared to have "lost it" - Mr Gove acknowledged that his comment was "clumsy and inappropriate" and apologised for giving offence.

The Economists for Remain group issued a warning from more than 175 experts, including 12 Nobel Prize winners, that Brexit would make a recession "significantly more likely". The Leave campaign was based on "dangerous fantasies" and misleading claims about the impact of immigration, they said.

Appearing alongside the PM in Bristol, Sir John said the Brexit camp would have to answer for "untruths" in their campaign, saying: "If our nation does vote to leave, we must respect their decision, but if they vote to leave on the basis of half-truths and untruths and misunderstandings, then pretty soon the gravediggers of our prosperity will have some very serious questions to answer."

Remain campaigners hailed a pro-EU letter to The Times, signed by 1,285 businesspeople employing 1.75 million workers, including 51 FTSE 100 companies and 910 small businesses, who said Brexit would mean "uncertainty for our firms, less trade with Europe and fewer jobs".

But the Leave campaign highlighted comments from Markus Kleber, head of the BDI - or federation of German industries - who urged the EU to agree a free trade deal with the UK after Brexit, warning it would be "very, very foolish" to attempt to impose tariffs on the departing former member.

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