EU referendum: Remain camp hands baton to Brown and Labour big hitters
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David Cameron will this week take a back seat in campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU, passing the baton to Labour’s big hitters to try and lure back working-class voters veering towards Brexit in a sign of mounting nervousness over the result.
With the referendum campaign entering its final full week, Gordon Brown, the former Labour prime minister, will make an impassioned appeal to supporters in Leicester to highlight the threats to public services and workers rights in the event of Brexit. Remain campaigners are hoping for a reprise of his barnstorming crusade in the final days of the 2014 Scottish referendum.
UK’s EU Referendum: How people would vote
For a more detailed summary of opinion polling visit the FT’s Brexit poll tracker page
The FT’s poll of polls for the first time put Leave ahead at 46 per cent compared with 44 per cent for Remain, with momentum continuing to build towards a Leave vote.
The swing in the polls towards a Brexit has contributed to a general sense of unease in financial markets. Investors will be paying particular attention to sterling when markets open on Monday morning following a sell-off last week that left the pound at a near a two-month low of $1.418.
The 9m people who voted Labour at the last election are vital for Remain, but Labour MPs say fears of immigration are driving many towards Brexit. Andy Burnham, shadow home secretary, warned last week that defeat was a “very real prospect”.
The Labour offensive began on Sunday, with a string of media interviews aimed at its political base. John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, urged his party’s supporters to “wake up” because leaving the EU would be a “big leap in the dark” that would affect jobs, wages and public services.
Mr Brown, questioned on BBC’s Today programme on Monday, tackled the key issue of immigration, highlighting the part played by overseas staff in the NHS but warning that the UK needed to do more about illegal immigration.
“I believe that in Britain we have managed migration. It’s not uncontrolled migration. There are skilled people coming in to this country who companies are desperate to employ and, of course, we have a system of managed migration rather similar to the Australian system for people who are non-EU migrants.”
Jeremy Corbyn, Hilary Benn, Tom Watson and Harriet Harman will all take to the campaign trail in an effort to claw back support from the many supporters who have rallied behind the anti-establishment message of the Out camp. Both Ed and David Miliband and Peter Mandelson will make their case in local newspapers in traditional Labour strongholds in the north of England.
Although Remain campaigners deny that panic is setting in as the June 23 vote approaches, they admit to being “worried” and “nervous” that the Leave side has more energy and conviction. Aides close to the prime minister acknowledged that the Tories would now sit back in order to not “go out and compete with our own message”.
“It’s very important for someone to get through to Labour voters,” Mr Brown told the FT, warning that for many who supported the party at the 2015 election, the EU debate was viewed as an argument between leading Tories.
An impassioned video on Facebook of Mr Brown arguing that Britain should be “leading in Europe, not leaving it”, filmed in the ruins of Coventry cathedral, has been seen by more than 2m people.
The shift in Leave campaign tactics comes as European Council president Donald Tusk warned that a new deal between the UK and the EU could take up to seven years to complete if Britain voted to leave the bloc.
Mr Tusk said that although the “sad, but relatively simple” process for Britain to leave the EU would take only two years, reaching a new trade pact would prove far more complicated.
“This would take at least five years, I am afraid, and without any guarantee of a success,” said Mr Tusk in an interview with German newspaper Bild.
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Mr Cameron on Sunday refused to criticise Boris Johnson, the Tory figurehead of the Leave campaign, but he has authorised a concerted attack by government ministers and other Remain campaigners on the former London mayor.
The attacks reflect a separate concern in Remain that Mr Johnson is seen by voters as credible. A ComRes poll last month found that by a 2/1 margin, 45 per cent to 21 per cent, voters said Mr Johnson was “more likely to tell the truth about the EU” than Mr Cameron.
But the more Mr Cameron’s team attacks Mr Johnson — for example by claiming he is an opportunist interested only in becoming prime minister — the more the campaign appears to be a “blue-on-blue” Tory debate, turning off Labour voters.
Additional reporting by Elaine Moore in London and Duncan Robinson in Brussels