EU Referendum

UK exit from European Union on a knife edge, as poll shows British public are now 50/50 over leaving

With David Cameron attending a crucial summit in Brussels this week, a poll finds the British public is now evenly split over the prospect of a British exit from the EU.

David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron faces a crucial week Photo: Rex

British voters’ appetite for leaving the European Union is gathering momentum, putting the prospect of Brexit on a knife edge, a new poll has found.

As David Cameron prepares to travel to Brussels for a crucial European summit to discuss his renegotiation plans, a poll has found that the British public is now evenly split about the prospect of a British exit from the EU.

It came as the EU referendum bill last night passed through the House of Lords, meaning that Mr Cameron could potentially hold his vote in June next year.

According to the ICM poll for the Vote Leave campaign, when undecided voters are excluded, 50 per cent of voters would choose “Brexit”.

It is the first time since 2013 that ICM has found that voters are evenly split. The independent polling company has in recent weeks found that the gap between the “Leave” and “Remain” campaigns is narrowing significantly.

The poll will come as a significant blow to the Prime Minister, who will on Thursday face opposition from European leaders over his plans to restrict EU migrants’ access to benefits in the UK for four years.

Mr Cameron is understood to be preparing to offer concessions over the reforms in a bid to ensure a final deal can be done by February.

The Prime Minister has been accused of a “climbdown” over the welfare reforms, with increasing numbers of eurosceptics warning that hisrenegotiation has failed.

A Commons committee warns in a report on Tuesday that any deal reached by Mr Cameron could be torn apart by European judges following Britain’s referendum because Downing Street has admitted that it will not secure treaty changes ahead of the vote.

The European Scrutiny Committee said that Mr Cameron’s proposals “will not deliver the legally binding and irreversible agreement” he has said that he wants.

According to today’s poll of 2,053 voters, when “don’t knows” are included 42 per cent of people would vote to stay in the EU, with 41 per cent voting to leave.

The poll finds that there is a significant shift towards exit when people are asked how they would vote if “freedom of movement” rules allowing EU migrants to live and work in the UK are left unchanged as a result of Mr Cameron’s renegotiation.

If freedom of movement remains as it is now, 45 per cent of voters would leave the EU and just 40 per cent would vote to remain, the poll finds.

The survey also finds that 65 per cent of those listing themselves as “enthusiastic” about the in-out referendum are “leave” voters.

Matthew Elliott, the chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign, told The Telegraph: “If you look at the polling from today, it looks very, very different than it did right after the general election, when everybody was writing off the chance of a leave vote in the referendum. People couldn’t see how leave could possibly win and now, on the eve of the crucial European council, the fact that both sides are now neck-and-neck means we have made up a lot of ground in the last year.

He described Mr Cameron’s proposed EU reforms as “quite a trivial renegotiation and one that doesn’t really change Britain’s position in the EU one jot”.

And he predicted that the Prime Minister will face Cabinet resignations unless he allows his ministers to campaign on either side of the argument ahead of the referendum.

Downing Street has said the Prime Minister will not decide about whether to force his ministers to abide by “collective responsibility” until his renegotiation is complete.

Mr Cameron has told allies he will campaign to leave the EU if his renegotiation is unsuccessful.

However, he has publicly maintained that he wants to campaign for Britain to stay in a reformed EU.

Ahead of Thursday’s European Council meeting, there have been growing signs that Mr Cameron’s renegotiation is flagging.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, last week said that every EU country is “against” Mr Cameron’s welfare reforms.

However, Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, on Monday has criticised EU countries for failing to come up with any alternative plan for curbing migration.

Mr Cameron in November said that he would be willing to jettison his flagship demand of a four-year benefit ban for EU migrants providing that an alternative is presented.

But since Mr Cameron made that offer more than a month ago, no “counter-proposals” have been made by any EU leader, Mr Hammond said.

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