Prime Minister David Cameron pleaded with Britons Tuesday to think of their children and their economic well-being before voting to quit the EU, as polls showed a razor-tight race less than 48 hours ahead of the referendum.
Cameron warned that future generations would be left a damaged, diminished economy if Britain became the first state to defect from the EU in the bloc’s 60-year history.
On the same day, financier George Soros predicted a Black Friday plunge in sterling if Britain, the world’s fifth-biggest economy, votes to go its own way.
The prospect of a Brexit has raised fears of a domino-effect collapse of the European project, born out of a determination to ensure peace on the continent after two world wars.
“Do think about the hopes and dreams of your children and your grandchildren,” Cameron urged, clearly targeting older voters judged most likely to oppose Brussels.
“If we vote out, that is it. It is irreversible. We will leave Europe for good and the next generation will have to live with the consequences.”
Britain’s power is amplified by staying within the 28-nation bloc, Cameron said.
Leaving, however, would weaken the economy, the prime minister predicted. “That is a huge risk to Britain, to British families, to British jobs,” he said.
– ‘Unemployment creating disaster’ –
Soros, who made a fortune by betting against the pound in the so-called Black Wednesday of September 1992, said rejecting the EU would deliver a financial shock.
“Sterling is almost certain to fall steeply and quickly if ‘Leave’ wins the referendum,” Soros wrote in The Guardian newspaper, predicting a devaluation of more than 15 percent.
“A vote to leave could see the week end with a Black Friday, and serious consequences for ordinary people.”
But pro-Brexit campaigners dismissed Soros’ remarks.
“He backed the creation of the euro — thought that was a good idea — and actually as we have seen, the euro has been a job-destroying, unemployment-creating disaster,” said the justice minister, Michael Gove.
World financial markets, which rallied the previous day following opinion poll gains by the “Remain” camp, traded cautiously higher as new surveys showed the race is tight.
Of the three latest polls, two placed “Remain” narrowly ahead while a third indicated the “Leave” camp could prevail.
– ‘Supermarket bills up’ –
The websites of six major bookmakers showed the odds heavily pointing to a “Remain” vote, with the chances of Britain staying in put at nearly 80 percent.
The latest surveys were mostly conducted after the brutal murder of Jo Cox, a 41-year-old Labour lawmaker and mother of two, who was shot and stabbed in her northern English constituency on Thursday.
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 campaign in Britain remains locked on two major concerns: the economy and high immigration.
“Supermarket bills up £580 ($850, 750 euros) a year if we leave” ran the headline of the “Remain”-supporting Daily Mirror newspaper.
Pro-Brexit tabloid The Sun’s front page said “stone-throwing migrants” had stormed the French port of Calais to try to gain access to Britain. Its headline: “Let us in before you vote out.”
Opinion polls consistently show just over 10 percent of Britons have not made up their minds.
“I don’t know. I think I will vote remain,” said Ghansham Mulchandani, a 37-year-old information technology worker in the banking industry.
“I think it will have a huge impact on our sector if we choose to leave,” he told AFP in central London. “All the big leaders are saying we should remain in Europe.”
With time running out, thousands will gather later Tuesday in Wembley Arena for a debate between the two camps, featuring former London mayor Boris Johnson for “Leave” and his successor Sadiq Khan for “Remain”.
Nigel Farage, head of the anti-EU UK Independence Party, revealed a new poster showing a traffic snarl with the headline: “The school over-run”. He called for border controls, saying one in four primary schools was oversubscribed last year.
The nationalist party’s previous billboard — showing a line of migrants walking across Europe with the words “Breaking Point” — unleashed accusations of hate-stirring.
– Alarm on immigration –
Johnson, the leading voice in the Brexit camp, told a radio interviewer: “I felt profoundly unhappy with it.”
British sports legends joined the fray, too.
“We live in a vibrant and connected world where together as a people we are strong,” England football great David Beckham wrote on Facebook. “For these reasons I am voting to Remain.”
English cricket legend Ian Botham advised people to leave the bloc, sounding the alarm on immigration.
“Our beautiful countryside is what makes Britain the place it is and this island was not designed for 100 million people,” he wrote in The Express.