Brexit referendum campaigning suspended after killing of MP

Cameron cancels appearance in Gibraltar after death of Labour MP Jo Cox

Campaigning in the British EU referendum was suspended yesterday afternoon after a violent attack led to the death of Labour MP Jo Cox.

The shocking assault, which took place outside a public library in the village of Birstall near Leeds, was condemned by all sides in the referendum campaign, leading to the cancellation of dozens of events throughout the UK and in Gibraltar, where British prime minister David Cameron had been scheduled to campaign.

Both the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, and chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne were not expected to deliver their much-anticipated Mansion House speeches last night, but instead to deliver short statements reflecting on yesterday's events.

The death of the 41-year-old Labour MP following a gun and knife attack took place just a week before British voters go to the polls in a historic referendum that will decide on Britain's future in the European Union.


Leave ahead

News of the attack emerged as a new poll on Wednesday afternoon showed the Leave side edging ahead, the latest in a series of polls showing strong support for an exit from the EU.

A poll for the Evening Standard newspaper revealed a six-point lead for the Leave campaign. It found that 53 per cent of voters favoured leaving the EU, with 47 per cent in favour of staying, though the poll excluded the "don't know" respondents. The monthly Ipsos/MORI poll which was conducted by telephone also found that immigration had overtaken the economy as voters' main concern ahead of the referendum on June 23rd.

The publication of the poll signaled more bad news for the Remain campaign which has found itself trailing the Leave campaign in a series of polls in the run-up to the referendum.

It was published as the Bank of England warned that the outcome of the referendum was “the largest immediate risk facing UK financial markets, and possibly global financial markets”. The central bank said it appeared “increasingly likely” that, should Britain vote to leave the EU, sterling’s exchange rate would fall further, “perhaps sharply.”

The issuance of a fresh warning about the risks of Brexit by the central bank was criticised by prominent Leave campaigners. In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Nigel Lawson, Norman Lamont, Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith criticised the "woeful failure" by the treasury and the Bank of England to offer a "fair analysis' of the risks of a British exit from the EU.

Yesterday also saw the unveiling of a controversial new campaign poster by the UK Independence Party (Ukip).

The advert, which was carried in local newspapers, showed hundreds of refugees crossing the Slovenian border under the slogan “Breaking Point: the EU has failed us all.”

The poster was condemned by pro-Remain politicians including the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) who condemned the poster as "disgusting."

Exploiting misery

Labour's Yvette Cooper accused Leave of "exploiting the misery of the Syrian refugee crisis in the most dishonest and immoral way".

Ukip leader Nigel Farage defended the poster while campaigning in central London yesterday. Pointing out that the photo had been taken in October 2015, following German chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to "open the doors" to refuges, he said that "very few people that came into Europe last year would actually qualify as genuine refugees".

Meanwhile, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker urged Britons not to vote to leave the European Union, warning that it would lead to aperiod of "major uncertainty both in Britain and in the European Union and on a more global level". But he said that a British withdrawal from the bloc would not constitute the "death" of the European Union, but would instead lead to further integration.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent