Brexit: Sides clash over immigration as polls tighten

Sadiq Khan says Leave campaign pursuing ‘Project Hate’ and failed to outline economic plan

The two sides in Britain’s EU referendum have clashed on the consequences of leaving the EU for immigration and the economy, as tightening polls suggest that Thursday’s vote remains too close to call. Leading figures from the rival campaigns faced off before thousands of people at London’s Wembley Stadium in the most combative debate of the campaign.

As Leave campaigners accused the Remain campaign of "Project Fear" over the economy, London mayor Sadiq Khan said the Leave campaign was pursuing 'Project Hate' over immigration. He said the Leave campaign had failed to outline a plan for Britain's economy and trade after Britain left the EU.

“How do you make sure that jobs won’t suffer, how will you make sure small businesses wont suffer, the last time there was a recession hard working people suffered many lost their homes and what’s important Boris is you answer their questions, what is your plan?” he said.

Opening the debate for the pro-Brexit side, Labour MP Gisela Stuart said the question voters ought to ask themselves was, if Britain was not now in the EU, would they vote to join.


"If the answer is no, then on Thursday you will vote leave and take control. The European Union was a noble dream in the last century but today it has failed, it has turned into a nightmare," she said.

The Remain campaign was represented by Mr Khan, Trade Union Congress general secretary Frances O'Grady and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. Making the case for Brexit were Ms Stuart, former London mayor Boris Johnson, and energy minister Andrea Leadsom.

Ms O’Grady said voters should consider the impact of Britain leaving the EU on the peace process in Northern Ireland and the relationship between Britain and Ireland.

“The Irish prime minister has said that if we come out of the EU, there will have to be border controls. And let me tell you, the way that’s seen in Belfast and Derry, I really worry for our future. We should be building bridges between people, not walls,” she said.

The debate came as the husband of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox said she was concerned about the coarsening of the debate in the referendum campaign. Brendan Cox said Ms Cox, who would have been 42 on Wednesday, had very strong political views and he believed she had died for those views.

"She completely respected that people could disagree for very good reason. But more about the tone of whipping up fears and whipping up hatred potentially, so she was definitely worried about that," he told the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg.

David Cameron on Tuesday made a direct appeal to voters to consider the economic and security risks of leaving the EU and to reject Brexit on Thursday. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, the prime minister said that EU membership amplified Britain's diplomatic and economic power.

“Brits don’t quit. We get involved, we take a lead, we make a difference, we get things done. If we left, our neighbours would go on meeting and making decisions that profoundly affect us, affect our country, affect our jobs - but we wouldn’t be there. They’d be making decisions about us, but without us,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times