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Dhaka Tribune

Economy could swing referendum for UK’s undecided voters

Update : 19 Feb 2016, 07:40 PM

A British private citizen Deborah Hastings will only decide whether UK should ditch its European Union membership on the eve of a referendum likely in late June. She has one key question for those courting her vote: Will leaving make me and the country richer or poorer?

As opinion polls show Britain is divided on the EU, Hastings and up to 10 million other voters, many of them women, have yet to make a decision. How they cast their vote will shape the future of the world’s fifth largest economy and the EU itself.

Hastings said Cameron’s plans to cut the benefits paid to EU migrants have started winning her over in recent days. But weighing against an ‘out’ vote, she would be concerned about what would happen to the coach loads of German tourists who support the local economy.

Open to persuasion, she has a message to those who want her vote. Talk less about immigration and give more detail on whether Britain would be better or worse off outside the EU.

Around one in five British voters tell pollsters they have yet to make up their minds. Many are middle-aged women who support Cameron’s Conservatives and live outside London and Scotland, two of Britain’s most pro-European areas.

If Cameron is to keep Britain in the bloc it joined in 1973, he will need to secure the vote of millions like Hastings.

The rest of Europe is watching warily - Britain is the EU’s second largest economy and one of its top two military powers.

Pro-Europeans warn an exit from the EU would hurt Britain’s economy and could trigger the break-up of the United Kingdom by prompting another Scottish independence vote. Opponents of EU membership say Britain would prosper outside.

‘The economy, stupid’

Whilst surveys suggest immigration - which has dominated headlines in British press - is voters’ top concern, long-term polling and previous votes show concerns over economic security can ultimately turn the undecideds.

“Even though they may be as likely to mention immigration as a big concern or access to benefits, ultimately the economy will swamp them,” Ben Page, CEO of polling firm Ipsos Mori, said.

“People talk about all these things, but ultimately: it’s, am I going to keep my job?”

Britain, whose economy had fallen far behind both Germany and France in 1975 when it last voted on membership, has been one of the fastest growing major economies over recent years, overtaking France as the EU’s second largest economy in 2014.

Opponents of membership say the strength of Britain’s $2.9tn economy shows it could prosper if London cut loose from what they say is a doomed experiment in German-dominated unity and excessive debt-funded welfare spending.

Supporters of membership, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, have warned a divorce from the world’s biggest economic bloc could hammer sterling and jeopardise London’s position as the only financial centre to rival New York.

Undecided voters concerned about the economy helped swing the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, when Scots voted 55-45 for a continued union with England, and the 2015 election, when voters gave Cameron an unexpected majority, Page said.

Over half of Britons expect Cameron to get a bad deal on reforming Britain’s EU membership at a summit starting Thursday, according to a ComRes poll. But more voters than not believe that personally, and as a country, they are better off in the EU. 

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