Brexit vote splits families

Lord Jeffrey Archer (AAP)
Lord Jeffrey Archer (AAP)

The debate over whether to quit the European Union has divided the United Kingdom, even pitting husbands against wives at the highest levels of the country's government.

Lord Jeffrey Archer, author and life peer of the House of Lords, is voting to stay -- but his wife, Mary Archer, wants the UK to go it alone.

"My wife had the privilege of running a very great hospital," he told Paul Henry on Wednesday.

"She said the immigrants coming in from Europe -- not other immigrants, this wasn't a racist comment -- the amount of people coming in from Europe and taking advantage of the National Health Service was harming her opportunity to run one of the great hospitals in England. That made her angry, and made her in the end want to vote Brexit."

Lord Archer, on the other hand, says the UK would be "foolish" to give up the economic benefits being a member of the EU brings.

But like many Britons, he says it was a tough call to make.

"I certainly was influenced by many people who I admire saying if we don't stay in we'll lose jobs, the economy will be harmed, it will take 10 years before we're back to normal. I took that very seriously."

He was 29-year-old when he first became a member of parliament, and was still there when the UK joined the EU in 1973. A referendum two years later saw the UK vote overwhelmingly to stay, Lord Archer crediting World War II veterans with swaying the vote.

"[They said,] 'I don't want another world war, and I want for the next generation not to have to worry about another world war.'"

Fewer than two-thirds of eligible voters took part in last year's general election, but Lord Archer expects the turnout for the Brexit vote to fall between 70 and 80 percent.

"This is a one-off. If you have a general election, sometimes people say, 'Let's give the other side a chance -- we can kick them out in four years' time.' People know that frankly, if we come out we're never going back; and if we stay in, it could be 20, 30, 40 years before we have another vote on this subject.

"People are realising this vote is vital to the future of our country."

The Brexit vote takes place on Thursday (UK time, Friday morning NZ time)