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UK voters split down the middle as Brexit campaign officially kicks off

The nation will go to the polls on 23 June to decide on whether to leave the EU.

boris cameron Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

CAMPAIGNING IN THE UK’s Brexit referendum officially begins today, 10 weeks ahead of a vote that will hand Britons their first chance to have their say on Europe since 1975.

With opinion polls suggesting the British public are deeply divided on whether to stay in the EU, the Leave campaign’s biggest name – charismatic London mayor Boris Johnson – will lead its “Brexit blitz” with rallies today and tomorrow in three northern cities.

Johnson, who is seeking to persuade the British people that they could thrive if cut free from EU red tape, has compared leaving the bloc to escaping from prison, saying the referendum was “like the jailor has accidentally left the door of the jail open and people can see the sunlit lands beyond”.

London Mayor election Boris Johnson Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

In the “Remain” corner is Prime Minister David Cameron, who says Britain has a “special status” within the EU thanks to a renegotiation he sealed in February, and that the country will be richer and stronger if it stays in.

He is confident of winning the 23 June poll, despite deep divisions within his Conservative party on Europe and recent difficulties over a controversial budget, threats to Britain’s steel industry and the so-called Panama Papers leak.

His “Britain Stronger In Europe” campaign has drawn support from the country’s main political parties and some of its biggest employers.

International bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have also warned that a Brexit could damage Britain.

Prime Minister's Questions David Cameron Source: Charlotte Ball

Debate about whether Britain should stay in the EU has been raging for weeks, but the race shifted up a gear this week when the two official campaigns were crowned by election officials.

This unlocked a treasure chest of publicly-funded benefits for both sides to ramp up their campaigns, as well as removing the ambiguity about who will be the major faces seeking to persuade Britons either way.

Close battle

The “Remain” and “Leave” camps are level on 50% support, according to a poll of polls run by academics at the What UK Thinks project.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour, only made his first big pro-EU speech yesterday and previously opposed EU membership but could play a key role in engaging voters, particularly the young.

EU referendum Jeremy Corbyn Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Voters are also increasingly distrustful of what Cameron tells them about the referendum, YouGov polling for The Times suggested this week, as the government started sending millions of pro-EU leaflets to British homes.

It found that only 21% of people trusted his statements and claims on the issue, down eight percentage points in two months.

Turnout is likely to be key in determining the outcome, experts believe.

Read: Poll: Would a Brexit spell economic doom for Ireland?

Read: Time to face facts: Brexit would be an economic disaster for Ireland

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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