A Brexit fishing flotilla sailed up the River Thames yesterday (15 June) ahead of next week’s knife-edge referendum over EU membership as Germany warned a British departure could start Europe’s “disintegration”.
Around 30 fishing boats floated past Tower Bridge, sounding their foghorns and displaying anti-EU signs, led by UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage in a protest against EU fisheries policy.
Events then took a bizarre turn when pro-EU rocker Bob Geldof pulled up in a rival boat, shouting “Nigel you’re a fraud” through a loudspeaker, only to be hosed with water from a Leave boat.
They set off after Prime Minister David Cameron’s government warned that leaving the European Union in the referendum on 23 June would cause such economic turmoil that tax hikes and spending cuts would quickly follow.
A series of opinion polls have shown the Brexit camp gaining ground, prompting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to issue a stark warning of the risks to the rest of the bloc.
“It would be a shock for the EU that would require mutual assurances that the EU continues to stick together and that a very successful decades-long process of integration doesn’t in the end turn into disintegration,” he said in Brandenburg.
Speaking at a joint press conference with French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault, he added: “We can both say that we want the majority in Britain to make the right decision, and the right decision from our point of view can only be to remain in Europe.”
“Europe would be lacking a lot if Great Britain decided to leave,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who is campaigning for Britain to remain in the 28-member bloc, said that schools, hospitals and the army would all have their funding slashed if Britons vote to leave.
In a harsh government warning on the economic implications of a Brexit, Osborne said leaving the EU would blast a £30-billion (€37.9-billion) hole in national finances that would mean taxes would have to be raised and spending slashed.
Investors from the Americas to Asia have been fleeing for the exit over the past week, as a succession of opinion polls put the Leave camp in front, ahead of a 23 June referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union.
“Quitting the EU would hit investment, hurt families and harm the British economy,” he said.
“I would have a responsibility to try to restore stability to the public finances and that would mean an emergency budget where we would have to increase taxes and cut spending.”
But Osborne quickly faced rebellion within his own party, as the justice minister vowed not to support it and 57 Conservative deputies slammed it as a “blackmail budget”.
In a joint statement, the rebels warned Osborne’s job was under threat and that they would not support the plans in parliament.
“If he were to proceed with these proposals, the chancellor’s position would become untenable,” they said in a statement.
Michael Gove, the justice minister and a pro-Leave campaigner, said he would not support it the budget.
“What we have heard from the Remain campaign throughout this whole referendum have been dire warnings of the terrible consequences of the British people just taking control of our own destiny,” Gove told the BBC.
Osborne’s warning came as opinion polls indicate a surge of support for the Brexit camp, putting pressure on global markets.
Rolls Royce warning
World stocks rebounded on Wednesday after heavy losses due to worries over Britain voting to leave the European Union.
Reflecting business uncertainty, engineering giant Rolls Royce urged staff to vote to stay in the union, warning in a letter that “as a company with three quarters of our workforce based in the EU, we have a clear interest in this debate”.
However, official figures released Wednesday showed that UK unemployment had fallen to an eight-year low, soothing some fears that investment decisions were being put off due to the referendum uncertainty.
As the campaign enters its final stretch, a poll by ComRes showed the race on a knife edge, with support for remaining at 46% and the pro-Brexit side at 45%.
This contrasts with a result from the same pollster just one month earlier in which the pro-remain side had an 11-point lead.
The WhatUKThinks website, an average of the last six opinion polls, gave Leave 52% against 48% for Remain.