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Sun backing boosts Brexit momentum ahead of vote

LONDON: An arrangement of newspapers yesterday shows the front page of the Sun daily newspaper with a headline urging readers to vote ‘Leave’ in the June 23 EU referendum. — AFP
LONDON: An arrangement of newspapers yesterday shows the front page of the Sun daily newspaper with a headline urging readers to vote ‘Leave’ in the June 23 EU referendum. — AFP

LONDON: An endorsement from the top-selling Sun tabloid boosted the campaign for Britain to leave the EU in next week’s referendum yesterday as the increasing prospect of a Brexit weighed on global investor confidence. With the June 23 vote approaching, four out of the last five published opinion polls have put the “Leave” camp ahead. Fears of the potential economic fall-out from Britain becoming the first country to leave the 28-member bloc have spooked investors, sending global stocks sliding and boosting demand for German government bonds, a safe haven.

The decision by Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun tabloid to endorse a Brexit is a further boost for the “Leave” campaign, although it is not a surprise, given the paper’s eurosceptic coverage in recent months. In a front page editorial, the paper urged its 4.5 million readers to “BeLEAVE in Britain”, saying: “We must set ourselves free from dictatorial Brussels.”

The endorsement, the first such declaration by a major national newspaper, increases the pressure on Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Remain” side, which several reports Tuesday said was now in “panic” mode. The “Remain” camp also published a letter from 60 health experts – former heads of various colleges representing medical staff specialities – warning of the risks that a Brexit presented to the state-run National Health Service.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, his most senior lawmakers and a dozen trade union leaders also warned that 525,000 public sector jobs could be lost if a “leave” vote sparks a recession, as some experts predict. Late yesterday, two of the biggest names on both sides of the debate were to go head-to-head in a debate hosted by the Huffington Post, YouTube and the Daily Telegraph. Former Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond, who is backing “Remain”, was to debate with lead Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson, the former Conservative mayor of London tipped as a future prime minister.

Polls Point To a Brexit
A YouGov poll for The Times yesterday gave the “Leave” camp 46 percent, compared to 39 percent for “Remain” – the fourth survey since Friday to put them ahead. However, a new ORB poll for the Daily Telegraph, also published yesterday, put “Remain” on 49 percent, compared to 44 percent for “Leave”. A compilation of the six latest polls by the WhatUKThinks research project, which excludes undecided voters, puts the Brexit camp ahead by 51 percent to 49 percent.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes and William Hill are still expecting Britain to stay in the EU, but have slashed their odds from a probability of 85 percent three weeks ago to about 60 percent. A string of financial institutions, including the IMF, have warned of the economic turmoil that could follow a Brexit, and the pound was at a two-month low yesterday. Asian stock markets extended a global sell-off Tuesday following heavy losses in New York and Europe. Yields on German sovereign bonds, a benchmark of financial security, were pushed into negative territory for the first time, meaning investors were paying to hold them.

Migrant Benefit Changes Upheld

The economic risks of a Brexit have featured heavily in the referendum campaign, alongside immigration, which the “Leave” side says can only be brought under control if Britain frees itself from EU freedom of movement rules. In its editorial, The Sun warned that staying in the bloc left Britain “powerless” to reduce the influx of hundreds of thousands of EU workers every year, which it said put “catastrophic pressure” on public services.

Cameron says that new rules restricting welfare payments to migrants, which he negotiated with other EU leaders before calling the referendum in February, will help limit the numbers by reducing incentives to move to Britain. In a potential boost to his case, the European Court of Justice yesterday backed Britain’s right to limit payments for children of European migrants, after a challenge by the bloc’s executive arm. – AFP

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