The murder of labour MP Jo Cox yesterday by a man shouting “Britain First” will hurt momentum for Brexit and reflect poorly on those campaigning to leave the European Union by linking them to a murderer, analysts have said.
With one week left before the EU referendum on 23 June, both the Remain and Leave campaigns decided to suspend their activities following Cox’s murder.
“It is right that we are suspending campaigning activity in this referendum, and everyone’s thoughts will be with Jo’s family and her constituents at this terrible time,” said David Cameron, the British Prime Minister who is supporting Britain’s continued membership of the EU.
But the mourning won’t last forever, and speculation is now focusing on what side will benefit from the tragic event. For most, the answer is clear: the Brexit camp will suffer.
“This will hurt the momentum of the Leave campaign, which has been gaining steadily in recent polls,” said Mujtaba Rahman, Europe practice head at Eurasia group, a leading global political risk research and consulting firm.
“If the incident is confirmed to have been motivated by Brexit, it will also reflect poorly on the more strident elements of the Vote Leave campaign, potentially swinging undecided voters towards ‘Remain’.”
According to Rahman, the murder of Jo Cox will also “allow British Prime Minister David Cameron an opportunity to act like a statesman and retrieve the agenda, something he has lost over the last week.”
On financial markets, investors were regaining confidence in Britain’s continued EU membership after yesterday’s tragic event.
“Certainly people are talking about the possibility that this does influence the Brexit vote in favour of Remain. It definitely is seen as part of the story, the recovery of risk,” said Alan Ruskin, global co-head of foreign exchange research at Deutsche Bank.
Ruskin noted that so-called riskier assets were now recovering. “They are up on the perception of a higher probability of a ‘Remain’ vote,” he said.
Ruskin cautioned however about jumping to conclusions about the outcome of next week’s referendum, saying the campaign was far from over. “It is a tragic event all around. There is a sense, there is an immediate emotional reaction, but there is still a week before the referendum itself.”
In Brussels, some EU politicians said they hoped the Cox murder at least won’t poison the atmosphere when voters go the polls on 23 June.
“The UK is a beacon for peaceful politics, and we hope that the British public … can make their democratic choices serenely and in a safe way next week,” said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch Finance Minister who chairs the Eurogroup meeting of EU finance ministers.
- 23 June: Referendum on Britain's continued membership of the European Union
- 28-29 June: EU summit in Brussels