In June, the United Kingdom will hold a critical referendum asking voters whether the country should leave the European Union. Some friendly Europeans want to convince their neighbors to stay -- with hugs.
A grassroots campaign dubbed "Please Don't Go UK," started by eight continental Europeans who live in London, is collecting and publishing photos of other Europeans hugging Britons in an effort to persuade the latter to vote against a British exit, or Brexit.
People have posted pictures of hugs -- between neighbors, coworkers and long-distance couples -- with the hashtags #PleaseDontGoUK and #HugABrit. One literary Frenchwoman even submitted a photo of herself hugging the bust of British author Virginia Woolf in East Sussex, England.
"It's a very, very simple campaign, showing sympathy with Britons by hugging them," Tessa Szyszkowitz, an Austrian journalist and one of the campaign's founding members, told The WorldPost on Monday.
Since the group started sharing the photos on social media 10 days ago, Szyszkowitz said the hashtags have skyrocketed in popularity. The campaign now receives hundreds of submissions every day, she said.
The hope is that continental Europeans can persuade Britons to stay, even as they lack a vote on this potentially game-changing matter. The Brexit referendum is limited to British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 living in the U.K., some U.K. nationals living abroad, and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar.
"The idea then was to do something, like a campaign, that would speak more about the pan-continental, pro-European feeling, and not so much about the numbers and the facts and the figures and all those things that people hear now, day in, day out," Szyszkowitz said, referring to the growing number of pamphlets and initiatives in the U.K. attempting to sway voters' minds.
"We didn't want to lecture the Brits on how to vote. We wanted to focus on a positive message, which is to tell them that the EU is a better nation [sic] with Britain inside," she added.
The June 23 referendum itself is simple: Voters will be asked whether the U.K. should stay or leave the EU, and the side that gets more than half the votes will win. But if the pro-Brexit side wins, Brits will have to wait at least two years for the country to actually untangle itself, the BBC noted.
So far, the debate has split the country more or less evenly, according to a recent aggregation of polling figures from the Financial Times.
People who endorse leaving, such as London Mayor Boris Johnson, point out that exiting the EU will give the U.K. more autonomy over national policies in areas like immigration and business.
Those urging Britons to stay, including Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, argue that the country profits from its access to the EU's massive internal free market. International bigwigs, including G20 finance chiefs and Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin, have said that a Brexit could hamper efforts to improve global economic growth and could obstruct international investment.
If the U.K. leaves the EU, it will become the first country to depart the 28-nation bloc. A successful exit is also likely to encourage other nations to go, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned.
Official political campaigns for and against a Brexit will begin this Friday, according to the BBC.