[LONDON] British public opinion is too close to call on whether the country should stay in the European Union, with many voters still undecided as interest groups and political leaders make their cases, according to an Opinium survey released on Saturday.
The poll for the Observer newspaper showed 44 per cent support Britain remaining in the 28-nation bloc, up from 43 per cent a week ago. Some 42 per cent of respondents backed leaving the European Union, also up 1 point from the previous poll released on June 4, as attitudes start to crystallize ahead of the June 23 referendum, but the differences aren't statistically significant.
Earlier on Saturday, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew added his voice to a chorus of leaders from within and outside the EU about the risks of pulling out of the European Union. "I see only negative economic outcomes" if the UK votes to exit, Mr Lew said in an interview to be broadcast on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS. A Brexit would also put geopolitical stability at risk, Mr Lew said.
While a focus on immigration has allowed the "Leave" campaign to gain momentum less than two weeks before a vote that's divided the ruling Conservative Party, most polls, like the Opinium survey, are too close to call. In contrast, an ORB poll released on Friday showed the "Leave" camp up by 55 per cent to 45 per cent - a reading that caused the pound to slump.
In Saturday's poll, 13 per cent of the 2,009 UK adults surveyed said they didn't know if the UK should stay or go. When pressed, though, about 38 per cent of the undecideds were leaning toward "Remain" and 25 per cent toward "Leave" - suggesting that late-deciders could tip the balance in favor of staying.
The government on Friday said 1.5 million people applied to vote in the final seven days of registration after the deadline was extended by two days. That's because the official website crashed shortly before the original limit of midnight on June 7, prompting "Remain" campaigners to raise concerns that the fault may have thwarted signups among young people, who are more likely to vote to stay in the EU.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron took his case to Britain's youth on Friday in a live Buzzfeed/Facebook event. Asked if he stays up at night thinking about the vote, he replied: "Of course - I am very concerned."
Also very concerned is the rest of the EU as it braces for the consequences of a so-called Brexit. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Friday said officials in the euro area are preparing in case Britain votes to leave the bloc. Plans for a post-Brexit Europe include the possibility of other countries following Britain's lead, with planning being undertaken for all possible scenarios, Der Spiegel on Friday cited the minister as saying in an interview.
With both sides accused by the other of misrepresenting facts, the campaign has become increasingly acrimonious. A debate on Thursday saw former London Mayor Boris Johnson accused by Energy Secretary Amber Rudd of seeking only to promote his leadership ambitions, while Mr Cameron has been attacked by Brexit proponents for failing to met his immigration pledges.
Financial markets have been whipsawed as investors grapple with the possibility of a British exit from the European Union. Sterling has fallen for two weeks in a row, to its lowest point since level since April, and trader expectations for market volatility jumped to a seven-year high.
UK groups from homebuilders to Cornish pasty-makers have weighed in on what a Brexit may mean to their businesses.
Executives from 17 of Britain's biggest property firms released a letter on Saturday saying the "considerable uncertainty" of a vote will harm investment, adding, "That is the last thing Britain's developers and house builders need." Disruptions to supply chains could also drive up the cost of building materials, they said.
Regional producers, meanwhile, wonder what would happen to the special protections from foreign rivals that they currently enjoy if Britain leaves the EU. "The EU has done a lot to protect Britain's food heritage," said Robin Skailes, whose family makes Stilton cheese at Cropwell Bishop Creamery in Nottingham. "We make fantastic food in this country, and we want to preserve it for the next generation."
Mr Lew on CNN repeated President Barack Obama's assertion that the UK would have to wait for the US to strike a trade deal with the EU before getting one of its own, should voters opt out of the union. "That wouldn't be good for the UK," he said.
And Germany's Schaeuble said if the UK opted to leave it would no longer reap the benefits of the EU's single market. Instead it would "have to follow the rules of a club which it just left," he told Der Spiegel.