Britons edging closer to voting to remain in EU

Updated: 2016-06-22 21:41

By Chris Peterson in London(

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Britons edging closer to voting to remain in EU

A woman reads a newspaper on the underground in London with a 'vote remain' advert for the BREXIT referendum, Britain June 22, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]

Britons are edging closer to voting in favour of remaining in the European Union in June 23's referendum, a result that would please many of the UK's closest allies, including China.

An opinion poll by the Daily Telegraph, a consistent supporter of leaving the EU, showed that of those who say they will definitely vote the Remain campaign, headed by Prime Minister David Cameron, is leading with 53 percent, against 46 percent for the Leave campaign, headed by former London mayor Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove.

Many other polls in recent days have shown the Remain camp easing ahead, although many commentators here say the result is still too close to call.

Ladbrokes, the giant UK betting company, said based on the wagers being placed, the company was forecasting a 78 percent chance of remaining, with only a 22 percent chance of leaving.

Ladbrokes correctly forecast the result of last year's General Election, which saw a surprise clear majority for Cameron's Conservative Party, despite the opinion polls having predicted either a loss or a hung parliament, with no single party in power.

The murder last week of a well-respected young Labour member of parliament, Jo Cox, by a man shouting "Britain First", the name of a small ultra right-wing nationalist group, is being seen by many here as being linked to the referendum campaign, which has become increasingly acrimonious.

Her killing, when she was stabbed and shot on the street in her constituency, shocked the nation. Cameron called a temporary halt to campaigning out of respect.

Cox had been an active Remain supporter and several commentators believe her death changed the momentum towards remaining in the EU.

Much hangs on this vote – in China,, an international property portal, said a recent survey showed 51 percent of the 411 respondents to the questionnaire said they had temporarily put on hold property transactions in the UK pending the outcome. Only 25 percent said they intended finishing deals before the vote.

JLL, a global real estate services company, said its survey of 100 investors showed a similar trend, with 45 percent of investors questioned saying they would adopt a wait-and-see attitude.

Chris Ireland, chief executive for UK at JLL, said that more and more people are taking this attitude, as they will decide after the referendum, especially for the commercial market in London, and it has little to do with the market.

Many of Britain's allies, including China, would be expected to welcome a decision to stay in the EU.

Chinese official pronouncements have been cautious – President Xi Jinping reportedly indicated to Cameron during a state visit here last October that China would prefer the UK to remain in the EU, which was backed up by a later Foreign Ministry statement.

During Xi's visit, deals with 40 billion pounds with Chinese companies were announced.

US President Barack Obama says he would prefer UK to remain a member of the EU, as would major European players such as France and Germany.

On Tuesday over 30 major French businesses took out full page advertisements in leading UK newspapers, headlined "S'il Vous Plait, Amis Britanniques, Remain! (If you please, British friends, remain). The text concluded with the words "Ne nous quittez pas! Vos amis Francais" (Don't go! from your French friends."

Li Ka-shing, one of the richest men in Asia, told Bloomberg Television in an interview on Tuesday that he was urging Britons to vote to remain, because a decision to leave would cause "great damage to the country and the EU.”

He said a vote to leave would not be the end of the world, but as a major investor in the UK, he would continue to maintain his business interests in the country, as well as Europe in general.

Bloomberg reported earlier remarks by Li, in which he said he didn't believe the exit vote would happen, but if it did, he would consider reducing his investment in the UK.

Li has a fortune of 28.6 billion US dollars, according to both Forbes and the Bloomberg Billionaire List, making him the third-richest man in Asia.

His CK Hutchison company operates the Superdrug and Savers stores in Britain, as well as port operations, the 3 mobile phone network, and energy providers. UK business accounts for 37 percent of CK Hutchison's earnings before tax.

Many Chinese companies that operate in the UK see the country as a bridgehead into Europe, a function that would suffer in the event of a vote to leave the EU.

That view was backed up by Yao Lin, deputy director of a research center under China's Ministry of Commerce, who warned in a paper than many Chinese companies investing in Britain as a way into the EU single market would see the "bridgehead curtailed" in the event of a vote to leave.

John Zai, founder and CEO of Cocoon Networks, a Chinese-funded company based in London, told China Daily last week that a vote to leave would be bad.

On June 23, the polling booths will be open from 7 am local time and close at 10 pm. Local counts will be announced from about midnight onwards, with predictions that a firm result may be known around 4 am on Friday.

Some private exit polls are planned in order to give investors an idea of trends after the ballot boxes close.

The official result is expected to be made public at 10 am on Friday.

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