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Britain’s opposing EU referendum camps take battle to River Thames

Niklas Halle’n, AFP | Boats decorated with flags and banners campaigning for Britain to exit the EU float sail up the River Thames in London on June 15, 2016

Britain’s opposing EU referendum camps took their increasingly shrill war of words onto the water on Wednesday as campaigners on rival boats hurled abuse at each other in bizarre scenes outside parliament on the River Thames.


As Prime Minister David Cameron answered questions on next week’s membership referendum inside the House of Commons, crowds gathered on nearby bridges to witness the nautical stand-off.

What was quickly dubbed on Twitter the “Battle of the Thames” had begun earlier in the day when campaigners for Britain to leave the EU sent a flotilla of some 30 fishing boats up the river decked in colourful flags and anti-EU banners.

“Let’s put the ‘Great’ back into Britain. Vote Out and be Great Britain again,” read a sign on one of the boats.

Other boats in the flotilla flew the British and English flags with signs bearing messages such as “Save Our Country” as polls show growing support for the campaign to quit the EU ahead of the June 23 vote.

The leader of the anti-EU UKIP party Nigel Farage joined one boat, highlighting what the Brexit campaign argue is the damage being done to Britain’s fishing industry by European Union quotas.

But as Farage sailed towards parliament, the flotilla was challenged by musician Bob Geldof on a rival boat full of “Remain” supporters who waved pro-EU banners and shouted abuse as loudspeakers blared out the 1964 Dobie Gray hit “The In Crowd.”

Live TV showed small “Out” boats spraying Geldof’s vessel with hoses in retaliation and a police launch circling the combatants.

Twitter users were quick to draw comic comparisons with the heroics of Britain’s great naval heroes Admiral Horatio Nelson and Francis Drake while lawmaker Johnny Mercer quipped “Do the guns on HMS Belfast still work?” in a reference to the historic World War Two warship moored further down the Thames.

According to opinion polls, voters are sharply divided over next Thursday’s referendum, which will determine whether Britain stays in the 28-member bloc it first joined in 1973.


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