U.K. referendum campaign resumes in earnest with vote nearing
Gregory Katz, The Associated Press
Published Sunday, June 19, 2016 7:08AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, June 19, 2016 12:25PM EDT
LONDON -- Britain's long and difficult referendum campaign has resumed in earnest after a three-day halt caused by the killing of Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox in a brazen knife and gun attack.
The death has cast a pall over the referendum set for Thursday, and its impact on the eventual results -- if any -- are unclear.
The campaign tone was perhaps a bit more moderate Sunday as both sides in the bruising battle over whether Britain should remain a member of the 28-nation European Union seemed to take a more civil approach.
The content remained the same: the "remain" camp predicts economic doom if Britain leaves the EU while the "leave" campaign warns of the perils of uncontrolled immigration unless Britain strikes out on its own.
Prime Minister David Cameron, leading the "remain" campaign, invoked Cox's memory as a contrast to the values of some of the "leave" campaigners, singling out UK Independence Party chief Nigel Farage for taking a negative approach.
In a newspaper column, he said Cox -- who favoured EU membership, and wanted Britain to do more to help Syrian refugees -- offered a hopeful vision for Britain while Farage wants to divide the country, not unite it.
"Are we going to choose Nigel Farage's vision -- one which takes Britain backwards; divides rather than unites; and questions the motives of anyone who takes a different view. Or will we, instead, choose the tolerant, liberal Britain; a country that doesn't blame its problems on other groups of people," he said.
With the resumption of campaigning, including a London rally featuring former Mayor Boris Johnson, a popular "leave" figure, fresh attention was focused on a poster unveiled by Farage's supporters hours before Cox was killed.
The poster showed a long line of immigrants fleeing poverty and warfare in the Middle East and elsewhere trudging across Europe with a warning in capital letters that said: BREAKING POINT. In smaller type, it accused the EU of failing Britain.
The poster has been cited by politicians and commentators as a prime example of how jarring the tone of the referendum campaign has become.
Treasury Chief George Osborne Sunday called it "vile" and compared it to Nazi propaganda of the 1930s.
Even Justice Secretary Michael Gove, a prominent leader of the "leave" campaign, decried the poster. He said he "shuddered" when he saw it.
"I thought it was the wrong thing to do," said Gove, a former Cameron ally who has broken with the prime minister over Britain's future in Europe.
Farage did not apologize for the provocative image, but he conceded that the Cox killing, which he called an act of terrorism, may have blunted the "leave" campaign's momentum at a key moment just days before the vote.
He blamed the tragedy on "one person with serious mental issues" and said he does not know how the public mood will sway in the next four days.
A range of public opinion surveys suggest the race is close.
The Cox case is likely to remain in the public eye because Thomas Mair, accused of murdering her, is scheduled to appear in court Monday.
At his first court appearance, he gave his name as "death to traitors, freedom for Britain," generating lurid headlines throughout the country.
Parliament will also meet in special session to give fellow lawmakers a chance to honour the youthful mother of two who had only served a short time before she was stabbed and shot to death.
With so much sadness in the air, one group introduced a bit of levity into the debate over Britain's ties to the vast continent that lies across the English Channel by holding an "Anglo-European kiss-in" near Parliament Square.
The goal was to show love between Britain and Europe, with similar events held in several other European capitals.