LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s opposing EU referendum camps took their war of words onto the water on Wednesday as campaigners manning rival boats hurled abuse at each other in bizarre scenes outside parliament on the River Thames.
Crowds gathered on nearby bridges to witness the nautical stand-off as Prime Minister David Cameron was answering questions inside the House of Commons on next week’s referendum on membership of the bloc.
With loudspeakers blaring and banners waving, the two sides launched verbal broadsides at each other from the decks as dinghies buzzed around and a police launch kept watch in the background.
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 poster on one of the boats.
Others 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 their 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.
“You’re a fraud, Nigel,” shouted Geldof, adding that Britain had one of the biggest fishing quotas in Europe.
Farage denounced Geldof’s supporters as “a bunch of upper middle class rich people and multi-millionaires laughing at people whose voices have never been heard for 40 years ...”
Twitter users were quick to draw comic comparisons with the feats 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.
Editing by Guy Faulconbridge