Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed Wednesday to “fight for every vote” after polls predicted a close finish to Britain’s general election aimed at settling the Brexit crisis.
Britons head to the polls for the third time in four years on Thursday, against a backdrop of political deadlock since a 2016 referendum which saw a majority opt to leave the EU.
Parliament repeatedly refused to accept divorce terms that former Prime Minister Theresa May agreed with Brussels, forcing her out and bringing Johnson into the fray with a vow to deliver.
The former London mayor and foreign minister has been hammering home his “Get Brexit Done” message, to win a majority which would enable him to get the deal approved.
He has vowed to take Britain out of the bloc by January 31.
But a closely watched poll released late Tuesday showed his Conservative party’s lead over the main opposition Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn had narrowed.
The YouGov study said the Tories were on course for a 28-seat majority in the 650-seat House of Commons under Britain’s first-past-the-post system.
On November 27, it forecast a 68-seat majority.
“The margin of error here could put the final number of Conservative seats from 311 to 367,” YouGov said.
The lower end of that range would leave Britain with another hung parliament, where the biggest party does not have a majority, and the very real possibility of Brexit being delayed for years or even cancelled in a second referendum.
It could also end the political career of Johnson, a sharply polarizing figure whose appeal to core Tory voters made him the logical choice to replace the increasingly hapless May.
“This could not be more critical. It could not be tighter,” Johnson said while helping to load milk bottles onto delivery vehicles on the campaign trail in northern England.
“We’re fighting for every vote.”
– ‘Money in your pocket’
Corbyn, 70, is a passionate campaigner who confounded pollsters by coming within a whisker of winning the last election in 2017.
He has vowed to implement a radically left-wing programme to overhaul public services that have been hit by a decade of austerity caused by the global financial meltdown of 2008-09.
But his vague stance on Brexit and repeated accusations of anti-Semitism in Labour under his watch have weakened his appeal to voters, according to opinion polls.
Corbyn, who like Johnson is criss-crossing the country in a frantic bid for last-minute votes, told the undecided that they could vote for “hope” on Thursday.
“We will put money in your pocket because you deserve it. The richest and big business will pay for it,” he said.
Corbyn’s proposal for Brexit is for Labour to strike a more EU-friendly agreement with Brussels, then put it up to a fresh referendum that includes the option of staying in the bloc.
He has spent much of the campaign attacking the Conservatives over its plans for the taxpayer-funded National Healthcare System (NHS).
Labour accused Johnson of abandoning the principle of free treatment for all by opening up the NHS to “Big Pharma” in a post-Brexit trade deal with US President Donald Trump.
Both Johnson and Trump deny the claims.
– Coalition building
Polling suggests Corbyn stands almost no chance of winning the election outright and would need smaller opposition support to become first Labour prime minister since Gordon Brown in 2010.
These include the pro-EU Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats, which has promised to cancel Brexit altogether.
But SNP support for a Labour coalition government could come at the cost of a promise to back a second referendum on Scottish independence.
The YouGov poll said the SNP was gaining momentum and on course to win 41 seats. But it projected just 15 seats for the Liberal Democrats.
Analysts believe the party made a mistake by initially promising to simply cancel Brexit, with polls indicating that many pro-European Britons view such a step as undemocratic.
The Lib Dems now promise to back a second referendum. But this stance makes them almost indistinguishable from Corbyn’s Labour.
Leading pollster John Curtice, from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, said Labour has been able to “squeeze” the Lib Dem vote in the past two weeks.
“The crucial question now is whether or not Labour can raise its boat just that little bit further such that we might get in a hung parliament territory,” Curtice said.