As Britons began voting Thursday morning on the historic referendum, polls show a strong decline in support for a “Brexit”, or British exit from the European Union, and a marked shift towards ‘remain’.
Since the announcement of the EU referendum in September, 2015, polls showed the ‘remain’ camp maintaining a small but consistent lead over those favoring Britain’s departure from the 28-member union.
A week ahead of the vote, however, polls showed ‘leave’ taking a substantial lead over ‘remain’.
That lead evaporated, however, following the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox last Thursday.
Cox’s killer, Thomas Mair, shot, then stabbed the MP while reportedly shouting “Britain first”. Mair had a history of ties to the National Alliance, a white supremacist organization operating out of Virginia.
In the wake of Cox’s murder, ‘remain’ has regained the lead. An average of polls showed ‘remain’ with a two point lead over ‘leave’, 47% to 45%. The most recent poll showed ‘remain’ with an absolute majority, 51% to 49%.
Another polling aggregate, maintained by NC Politics UK, showed ‘remain’ also leading by two points, 46% to 44%. While the two remain in a statistical dead heat, NC Politics UK analyst Matt Singh suggests that polls tend to underestimate support for ‘remain, with undecided voters tending towards ‘remain’.
NC Politics UK now places the likelihood of a Brexit at 26%, down for a peak of 42% last week.
The question has divided Britain’s two largest parties, with UK Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative) staunchly opposing the Brexit, while, a number of high-profile members, including former London Mayor Boris Johnson, have campaigned in favor of ‘leave’.
Labour Party chairman Jeremy Corbyn recently astonished long-time allies, abandoning four decades of opposition to the UK’s membership in the EU and coming out in favor of ‘remain’. Many trade unionists oppose Britain’s membership in the union, arguing that open-border policy within the EU and lack of trade restrictions harm British workers.
If the legally non-binding referendum passes on Thursday with a majority favoring ‘leave’, Britain’s parliament will hold a vote on the issue.
A coalition of Liberal Democrats and pro-EU MPs from both the Conservatives and Labour could block the Brexit even if it were to win Thursday’s referendum – though observers are quick to note that such a move could do considerable political damage to MPs who appear to be negating the will of the people.
Preliminary results of Thursday’s historic vote will be available early Friday morning.