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David Cameron has urged older voters to “think about the hopes and dreams of your children and grandchildren” when they cast their ballots in Britain’s EU referendum, as he made a direct appeal to the nation from Downing Street.

With polls showing that voters aged over 45 are more likely to favour leaving the EU, Mr Cameron urged people of his generation and older to listen to younger voters, who are predominantly Remain supporters. “They cannot undo the decision we take,” he said in the hastily arranged event outside Number 10. “If we vote Out, that’s it. It’s irreversible.”

Mr Cameron’s use of the prime ministerial pulpit was a deliberate attempt to focus voters on the momentous decision they would take on Thursday and its economic and security consequences.

“It will be just you in the polling booth, taking decisions about your future, your children’s and grandchildren’s future,” he said.

The prime minister said younger voters saw EU membership as crucial to their ability to travel and that remaining was indicative of the open society they wanted to build. He said the next generation would “live with the consequences”.

But Mr Cameron also knows older voters are more likely to vote than the young and his appeal was intended to try to swing part of that demographic behind the Remain side.

The prime minister said both the economy and national security would be damaged by British exit from the bloc and he deployed again the argument that Remain was a patriotic choice. “Brits don’t quit,” he said. “We get involved, taking a lead, making a difference, getting things done.”

Vote Leave sources said Mr Cameron’s appearance in Downing Street “broke all the rules” of the “purdah” period, during which the government machine cannot support either Remain or Leave camps.

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