EU Referendum: Lexington Weekly Update

The murder of Jo Cox has shocked the entire political class. The referendum campaign has ground to a halt amidst an outpouring of grief among parliamentarians, media and public not seen since the death of Labour Leader John Smith in 1994. The campaign will be in stasis at least until Monday when Parliament is recalled to pay tribute to the popular Labour MP but is in any case unlikely to hit its stride again in the short time to the vote on Thursday.

Voters will be reaching their final decisions in a much quieter, more sombre atmosphere than anyone could have anticipated.

Campaign update

The bookies indicate that Remain is still on course to win the referendum but recent polling has caused many to think again. We noted in last week’s Lexcomm that there were signs of Leave gaining momentum in the campaign and the last week has seen the Brexiteers score six polling leads, compared to Remain’s four. Of most concern for Remain is the three phone polls which have given Leave fairly sizeable leads.

Commentators are undecided on the significance, preferring to see whether Leave can sustain this trend over the weekend and into the start of next week. The debate hinges on whether Leave can draw any comfort, considering that most experts suggest a lead greater than four points is required as past referenda has traditionally seen a last minute swing to the status quo. The surge in support for Leave has, however, cast doubt on whether the status quo argument will hold true when Remain is currently on the back foot. As Peter Keller argues on his blog yesterday: ‘I stand by the basic judgement that late deciders will prefer safety to risk. However, I am no longer sure that this will benefit “remain”. In the past fortnight the Vote Leave campaign has successfully raised the saliency of immigration, while the Stronger in Europe campaign has so far failed to keep the economic risks of Brexit at the forefront of voters’ minds.’

There is an argument that the recent Leave poll leads could benefit Remain in the last week. The very real possibility of Brexit could well motivate potential remain voters to get to the polling station which is important at this point in the campaign as both sides do their best to get out the vote.

Based on the polling evidence it is too close to call and it might be better to follow the bookies where Ladbrokes give Remain a 66 per cent chance of success, compared to 34 per cent for Leave. There is no question that the bookies have seen increased voting for Leave, but the problem here is that the markets are heavily influenced by media coverage of individual polls. Leave’s odds have certainly shortened indicating that the contest is very real indeed. It will be fascinating to see what the polls say next week.’

The week in review

Monday: Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown published a document outlining six potential reforms to the EU and told Labour voters they have the ‘most to gain’ from the UK remaining in the EU. Two ICM polls for the Guardian gave Brexit a six-point lead in both phone and online surveys, with 53% for Leave and 47% for Remain.

Tuesday: Leading Labour figures warned about the impact of Brexit on public finances, with Jeremy Corbyn and the entire shadow cabinet joining with the leaders of 11 trade unions to warn about the damage to public services. A poll for the Times found 54% for Leave against 46% for Remain while the Sun declared it was backing a vote to Leave.

Wednesday: George Osborne joined forces with his predecessor Alastair Darling to warn about the spending cuts which would be required after a Leave vote, presenting a ‘Brexit Budget’, which caused 65 Conservative MPs to sign a letter saying they would refuse to back such a budget. Vote Leave unveiled six potential Parliamentary Bills to provide a ‘framework for taking back control and establishing a new UK-EU deal’ focusing on increased NHS spending and immigration control. Attention focused on the Thames though, as Nigel Farage led a flotilla of boats to call for a Leave vote, with rival Remain boats – led by Bob Geldof – retaliating.

Thursday: Campaigning was suspended when it was announced that Labour MP Jo Cox had been killed in her Batley & Spen constituency, with a planned rally by David Cameron at Gibraltar cancelled.

Friday: The campaign remained suspended, with Britain Stronger in Europe confirming it would not resume campaigning until Sunday, while Labour said it would suspend its national campaign until Monday.

By Lexington Communications