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EU referendum deadline extension inflames Brexit camp
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EU referendum deadline extension inflames Brexit camp

3 min. 08.06.2016 From our online archive
The British government said Wednesday it would extend voter registration for the EU membership referendum after a last-minute surge in demand crashed the applications website

(AFP) The British government said Wednesday it would extend voter registration for the EU membership referendum after a last-minute surge in demand crashed the applications website -- but "Brexit" supporters cried foul.

The midnight Tuesday deadline for registrating to vote will be extended by 48 hours, the government announced.

Emergency laws will be rushed through parliament on Thursday, two weeks ahead of the historic June 23 vote, to legalise the extension.

Hundreds of thousands of people tried to register at the last minute, causing the online site to fail.

Applications came particularly from younger voters, who according to opinion polls tend to favour staying in the EU -- and "Remain" campaigners had complained the glitch would lessen their chances of victory.

"They've just told the House of Commons that their website crashed last night because of the high demand," Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign said in a statement.

"But we know that the government and their allies are trying to register as many likely 'Remain' voters as possible," he said, adding: "Don't let the government skew the result of the referendum."

"Whitehall will do anything to stop this country taking back control from the EU," he said, referring to the centre of government administration.

Around 132,000 of the 525,000 people who did successfully register on Tuesday were aged under 25, compared to around 13,000 from the 65-to-74 age group.

"We think it is right to extend to midnight tomorrow to allow people who have not yet registered time to get the message that registration is still open and get themselves registered," Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock said.

Tim Farron, leader of the fervently pro-EU Liberal Democrats, Britain's fourth-biggest party, said: "Younger people are overwhelmingly pro-European, and if they are disenfranchised it could cost us our place in Europe".

Surge in registrations followed TV face-off

The surge in requests came immediately after a tense TV face-off between Prime Minister David Cameron and anti-EU leader Nigel Farage.

Cameron fended off hostile questions about high immigration rates of EU workers while Farage was forced to defend himself against charges of racism.

The referendum campaign has intensified long-held euroscepticism in Britain but a major survey on Tuesday showed it was not alone.

The Pew Research Center survey said opposition to the EU has also increased in traditionally more positive countries -- with a 17-point drop in EU support to 38 percent in France, for example, over a single year.

In the 10 countries surveyed, only Greek voters, forced by the EU and international lenders to adopt a harsh austerity programme, are more upset with Brussels than the French.

The Union is still supported among newer members, with 72 percent of Poles and 61 percent of Hungarians expressing a favorable view, compared to only 27 percent of Greeks.

In Britain, it found 48 percent of voters were unfavourable to Europe and 44 percent were in favour.

Close call in opinion polls

The WhatUKThinks website's average of the last six domestic opinion polls puts the "Remain" camp is on 51 percent and the "Leave" campaign on 49 percent.

In Tuesday's debate, Cameron faced repeated questions from the audience on high immigration from other EU countries -- the "Leave" side's trump card during the campaign so far.

But the Conservative leader attacked what he called Farage's "little England" vision and said a Leave vote would mean "quitting, and I don't think we're quitters".

Warning that Brexit could lead to Scotland leaving the UK, he said: "You don't strengthen your country by leading to its break-up."

Scotland's governing secessionist Scottish National Party has said Britain voting to leave the EU, while a majority of Scots voted to stay in, would trigger a second referendum on independence.

However, a TNS survey of 1,008 Scottish voters found that in those circumstances, Scots would still not back independence, just as in the September 2014 referendum.

Excluding "don't know" voters, 71 percent of Scots would vote to remain in the EU, but 56 percent would vote to stay in the UK if Britain pulled out of the bloc, the poll found.