The pound extended its rally in Asian trade Monday (20 June) as investors swung their bets to Britain voting to stay in the European Union this week and latest polls showed support shifting to the Remain camp after the murder of a pro-EU lawmaker.
Long-running fears of a pro-Brexit vote on June 23 had been hammering the British currency and became heightened in recent weeks as the Leave campaign pulled ahead in the polls.
On Monday, the pound gained as the first poll taken after the murder of pro-European Union lawmaker Jo Cox suggested the Remain camp was gaining momentum.
In Tokyo, the currency rose to $1.4570 from $1.4348 in New York late Friday, when it rallied in part due to the three-day suspension of campaigning after the Cox’s killing on Thursday.
“Weekend polls suggested the tragic death of Jo Cox may be shifting some support back to Remain – that has helped risk sentiment a bit,” Robert Rennie, the global head of currency and commodity strategy at Westpac Banking in Sydney told Bloomberg News.
“The polls are also driving the move away from safe-haven currencies,” Rennie said.
The probability of a vote to leave the EU declined to about 30% on Sunday from almost 40% on Wednesday, according to bookmaker odds processed by the Oddschecker website, Bloomberg reported.
But a key polling average calculated by research site What UK Thinks puts the Remain and Leave voters neck and neck.
Britain’s rival EU camps battle into final stretch
Meanwhile, rival camps vied to seize momentum Monday for the final stretch before the 23 June referendum on European Union membership.
Politicians will return to parliament, which had been in recess, for a special sitting to pay tribute to Labour MP Jo Cox, a pro-EU campaigner murdered on a village street last week.
Politicians on both sides of the debate sought to lay out their case to voters with just three days left until the ballot.
“You can change the whole course of European history,” wrote pro-Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph.
“I hope you will vote Leave, and take back control of this great country’s destiny,” he implored. “This chance will not come again in our lifetimes, and I pray we do not miss it.”
Prime Minister David Cameron called on voters to pick Remain in a sometimes heated BBC television appearance on Sunday evening in which an audience member accused him of appeasing an EU “dictatorship”.
“If we do leave we are walking out the door, we are quitting,” Cameron urged.
“I don’t think Britain at the end is a quitter. I think we stay and fight. That is what we should do.”
The Leave and Remain sides have battled each other to a stalemate with each on exactly 50% support, according to an average of polls calculated by research site What UK Thinks.
The vote on Thursday could see Britain become the first country to leave the 28-member European Union, a prospect that rattled markets last week, when the Leave side appeared to be gaining.
Opposition Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is due to be grilled by a live television audience later on Monday as he makes his case for Remain.
The murder of fellow Labour politician Cox, who was known for her pro-EU stance and refugee advocacy, caused widespread shock and questions over whether the tone of the campaign had been divisive.
Her alleged killer, Thomas Mair, replied “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” when asked to give his name at a court appearance on Saturday.
Criticism has focused on a poster unveiled by the Leave campaign showing a queue of migrants and refugees on the border of Slovenia, with the words “Breaking point” in large red letters.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne called it “disgusting and vile” and said it had “echoes of literature used in the 1930s”.
On the left, a Nazi propaganda film from the 1930s. On the right a Vote Leave poster. pic.twitter.com/b6crr48AZy
— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) June 16, 2016
Another senior Conservative politician, Sayeeda Warsi, announced she was withdrawing support for Leave due to the poster.
“That ‘breaking point’ poster really was — for me — the breaking point to say, ‘I can’t go on supporting this’,” Warsi told The Times.
“Are we prepared to tell lies, to spread hate and xenophobia just to win a campaign?”
Baroness Warsi is defecting to Remain because of Leave's "complete lies" and that Farage poster. https://t.co/f8Aa4zL3z5
— Sam Freedman (@Samfr) June 19, 2016
The Leave side has in turn accused Remain of scaremongering with its warnings of recession if Britain leaves the EU.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the pro-Brexit UK Independence Party (UKIP), has dismissed criticism of the poster and denied stirring hatred. But he conceded Sunday that the murder of Cox may have tempered the upward march of his campaign.
“We did have momentum until this terrible tragedy,” he told ITV. “When you are taking on the establishment, you need to have momentum.”
- 23 June: Referendum on Britain's continued membership of the European Union
- 28-29 June: EU summit in Brussels