LONDON -- Campaigners, from the prime minister on down, covering both sides of the debate over the United Kingdom's place in the European Union, blanketed the country Wednesday trying to convert the undecided on the final day before the vote.
Former London Mayor Boris Johnson (left) and porter Greg Essex pretend to kiss salmon Wednesday at a London fish market as Johnson campaigns in favor of Britain leaving the European Union.
Customers line up Wednesday outside a foreign currency exchange bureau in London on the eve of the vote on whether Britain should leave the European Union. Some Britons reportedly were rushing to buy euros and dollars.
Outlining his vision of a future with the U.K. retaining its position in the 28-nation bloc, Prime Minister David Cameron rejected the notion that the country would be headed in the wrong direction if the "Remain" side prevails in today's vote.
"We are not shackled to a corpse," Cameron told the BBC. "You can see the European economy's recovery. It's the largest single market in the world."
Pushing for an exit from the union, former London Mayor Boris Johnson put on a show for the cameras at the Billingsgate Fish Market in East London and pretended to kiss a fish.
"I really think tomorrow can be independence day," Johnson told supporters. "It's time to break away from the failing and dysfunctional EU system. It's time to have a totally new relationship with our friends and partners across the Channel."
But opponents say a vote to leave could be a grievous self-inflicted wound from which it would take years, if not decades, for the U.K. to recover.
In a show of political unity Wednesday evening at the University of Birmingham, Cameron rallied with his predecessor, Labor's Gordon Brown. Cameron, a Conservative, urged undecided voters to "put jobs first, put the economy first, put your children's future first, put our future first as a country."
He was joined there by politicians from other parties, too -- Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and the country's sole Green member of Parliament, Caroline Lucas -- as well as representatives of business, trade unions and the medical profession.
"The sort of Britain I know, it doesn't walk away, it doesn't quit, it stays and it fights," Cameron said.
Brown attacked the "Leave" campaign over recent posters that played on concerns about immigration. He also invoked the pro-EU Labor lawmaker Jo Cox, who was slain last week after building up a reputation as a defender of refugees and immigrants.
"The Britain that I know is better than this Britain of debates, of insults, of posters," Brown said. "The Britain that I know is the Britain of Jo Cox, the Britain where people are tolerant and not prejudiced."
Wednesday's campaigning took place even as mourners gathered in London and other world capitals to honor the memory of Cox.
Speaking to a crowd of 9,000 in Trafalgar Square on what would have been Cox's 42nd birthday, Brendan Cox said that his wife "feared the consequences of Europe dividing again" and urged people to follow her example.
EU: 'Out is out'
Most economic, political and defense authorities -- including nearly all foreign leaders -- have joined the call for the U.K. to stay and have issued dire warnings about the consequences of an exit from the EU.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels that if the U.K. exits the EU, it could weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance.
"We are faced with so much uncertainty, so much unpredictability, with terrorist threats, with a more assertive Russia in the east," Stoltenberg said. "I believe that a more fragmented Europe will be something which will only add to the uncertainty which surrounds us."
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker flatly rejected suggestions that Britain might be able to negotiate better terms with the EU if it votes to leave.
"Out is out," he said.
President Barack Obama has weighed in strongly for the "Remain" side, saying he thinks the U.K. is a more valuable ally from within the European Union.
All of the Britain's EU allies have said they, too, want the island nation to stay. To illustrate the point, European landmarks from Paris to Warsaw have been bathed in the colors of the Union Jack this week, along with the message "Vote Remain."
In an op-ed in The Guardian newspaper Wednesday morning, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wrote that a vote to leave would be "the wrong choice."
"It would be a mistake for which you, the voters, primarily would pay the price," he wrote. "Because who really wants Britain to be small and isolated?"
Two of the top "Leave" campaigners -- Johnson and Justice Secretary Michael Gove -- have invoked provocative Nazi comparisons. Johnson has suggested the EU ambitions mirror those of Hitler's Germany, and Gove has said those of the "Remain" campaign were akin to Nazi propagandists.
Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major on Wednesday called Johnson and Gove, both fellow Conservatives, "gravediggers of our prosperity."
In his final speech for the "Leave" campaign, Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, said the vote was a chance to liberate the country from European bureaucrats and other continental elites.
"This referendum," Farage said, "is about the people versus the establishment."
Farage resisted fresh calls to apologize for a poster showing hundreds of nonwhite migrants making their way across Europe alongside the words "Breaking point."
The poster was unveiled hours before Cox, a supporter of programs for refugees from Syria and elsewhere, was killed.
"I apologize for the timing and I apologize for the fact that it was able to be used by those who wish us harm," Farage said. "But I can't apologize for the truth.
"This was a photograph that all newspapers carried. It is an example of what is wrong inside the European Union," he said.
Recently elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan castigated the anti-EU camp's anti-immigrant message as "Project Hate."
Parliament not bound
When Cameron promised a referendum in January 2013, he had hoped the vote would put to rest a debate over Europe that has nagged Britain for decades.
While the referendum vote is final -- unlike in an election where the results can be reversed in the next term -- it is not legally binding and Parliament would have to vote formally to repeal the law that brought the U.K. into the EU in the first place.
In a report for the Constitution Society, Richard Gordon and Rowena Moffat said that "The government could, in strict law, choose to ignore it."
A vote by Parliament to leave would invoke Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, which allows a member state to withdraw. Under EU rules, a departing member has two years to negotiate the terms of its exit.
That has never been done before.
Politically, however, it would be almost impossible to overlook the first vote on Britain's place in Europe in 41 years. "Given the constitutional significance of the issue at stake," the report's authors say, "it is inconceivable that the government could choose not to be bound by the result."
Even if "Remain" wins, some "Leave" campaigners have said they will press for another referendum if they come up short in a close vote. Scottish leaders say that if the U.K. votes to leave the EU against the will of the pro-Europe Scots, they will renew their push for independence just two years after losing a referendum vote.
The U.K. joined the European Union's predecessor bloc, the European Economic Community, in 1973.
Much of the debate has hinged on the economy, and businesses have awaited today's vote with trepidation. Many fear that a vote to leave would undermine London's position as one of the world's pre-eminent financial centers and damage an industry that underpins the British economy.
"We don't solve our immigration challenge by leaving the European Union, but we do create a massive problem for our economy," Cameron told the BBC. "This is irreversible. You can't jump out of the airplane then climb back in through the cockpit hatch."
Leaders of about half of Britain's largest companies made a last-ditch appeal to their employees to vote to remain in the EU.
In a letter to The Times on Wednesday, some 1,285 business leaders -- including representatives of half of the FTSE 100 businesses -- argued that a vote to leave would hurt the British economy.
Similar letters have been released throughout the campaign.
"Britain leaving the EU would mean uncertainty for our firms, less trade with Europe and fewer jobs," the letter said. "Britain remaining in the EU would mean the opposite: more certainty, more trade and more jobs. EU membership is good for business and good for British jobs. That's why, on June 23, we back Britain remaining in the EU."
Among the companies represented were Barclays, Standard Life and Anglo-American.
Stock markets and the pound continued to rise, indicating that investors think the "Remain" side will win. Markets are likely to be jittery, though, as the vote is expected to be tight and a decision to leave would create huge uncertainty. U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen warned Tuesday that the vote "could have significant economic repercussions."
The betting markets stood solidly by the "Remain" side, however. The Betfair exchange said "Remain" is now at 76 percent probability. In a statement, it said some 80 percent of the bets placed during and after a debate broadcast by the BBC on the issue Tuesday were for "Remain."
Information for this article was contributed by Gregory Katz, Danica Kirka, Raphael Satter, Frank Jordans and John-Thor Dahlburg of The Associated Press; by Griff Witte of The Washington Post; by Alex Morales of Bloomberg News; and by Stephen Castle of The New York Times.
A Section on 06/23/2016
Print Headline: Brits hear final EU appeals