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Campaigning resumes in Britain's EU referendum following murder of Labor MP Cox

The only opinion poll carried out since the killing showed that 45 percent of those polled wanting to remain in the EU, and 42 percent saying they'd vote to leave in the June 23 referendum.

by VICE News and Reuters
Jun 19 2016, 3:50pm

Ciudadanos sostienen banderas en favor de la permanencia a la UE en un evento celebrado en la plaza del Parlamento, en Gran Bretaña, el 19 de junio de 2016. (Hayoung Jeon/EPA)

The campaign to determine whether Britain will leave or remain in the European Union resumed on Sunday after a three-day hiatus, following the murder of Labor Parliamentarian Jo Cox.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who is leading the campaign to remain in the EU, warned voters that they faced an "existential choice" this Thursday. Opinion polls indicated that the "Remain" camp had recovered some momentum. But overall, the electorate still seems split evenly down the middle.

With just five days left until the ballot, the warring sides returned with a slew of interviews and articles in Sunday's newspapers — pitting the familiar immigration vs. economy debate which has framed the campaign so far.

David Cameron, urged voters in a Sunday Telegraph op-ed, to carefully think about the economic impact that leaving the EU would have.

"We face an existential choice on Thursday," Cameron wrote. "So ask yourself: have I really heard anything – anything at all – to convince me that leaving would be the best thing for the economic security of my family?"

Related: Britain leaving the EU could threaten lasting peace in Northern Ireland

Meanwhile, the IMF has warned that the possibility of leaving the EU poses the "largest near-term risk" to the UK economy.

But Michael Gove, senior spokesman for the rival 'Leave' campaign, said leaving would actually improve Britain's economic position.

"I can't foretell the future but I don't believe that the act of leaving the European Union would make our economic position worse, I think it would make it better," he said in an interview with the same newspaper.

In an appearance on ITV's Peston on Sunday show, 'Leave' campaigner and right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage, suggested that Cox's killing had an adverse effect on the campaign to leave the EU.

"We did have momentum until this terrible tragedy," Farage said.

The only opinion poll carried out since the killing showed support for "Remain" at 45 percent ahead of "Leave" at 42 percent — a reversal of the three-point lead that the pollster showed for "Leave" in a poll conducted earlier last week. Around 10 percent of the electorate is undecided.

But pollsters said most of these surveys were carried out before Thursday's attack, and thus did not reflect the full impact of the event.

"We are now in the final week of the referendum campaign and the swing back toward the status quo appears to be in full force," Anthony Wells, a director with polling firm YouGov, said.

Related: Why would Britain leave the European Union?

Immigration, one of the public's chief concerns ahead of the referendum, has proven to be the most inflammatory issue in the campaign, tapping into fears that EU freedom of movement threatens national security and pressures public services.

"I hope, because of the tragic death of Jo, we can have a less divisive political debate in our country and particularly in the last few days of this referendum," Finance Minister George Osborne, a "Remain" campaigner, also told ITV's Peston on Sunday

But as campaigning resumed, neither side seemed inclined to back away from their wars of words.

The UKIP has drawn criticism for a media campaign — which can be seen in the Tweet below — that says the EU has failed to adequately control immigration, and that now the 28-member bloc is overrun by religious, dangerous extremists. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne described the poster as "disgusting" and "vile," and that it's anti-immigrant sentiment had echoes of "1930's propaganda."

There is concern that a British exit from the EU could have a knock-on effect, and trigger similar moves by other EU member states, particularly in Eastern Europe, according to Luxembourg foreign minister, Jean Asselborn.

"It cannot be ruled out that Brexit leads to a domino effect in Eastern Europe," Asselborn told Tagesspiegel am Sonntag.

Reuters contributed to this report