Leinen: Shock of Brexit would draw EU closer together

Jo Leinen [SPD]

As the UK’s vote on its EU membership looms on the horizon, EURACTIV Germany spoke to MEP Jo Leinen about what might happen if Brexit happened and what kind of relationship the UK could expect with the EU.

 Jo Leinen is an SPD lawmaker (S&D).

Leinen was interviewed euractiv.de’s Manuel Müller.

If the UK leaves, how should the EU respond?

It would be a big shock, there’s no doubt about that. As we know, it would be the first member state to leave this incarnation of the EU. Therefore, there is no blueprint or precedent for the scenario that would come after. Of course, one can imagine what the reaction would be. I think that countries like Germany and France would have to take the initiative to send out a message that, despite the UK’s exit, integration will continue and the concerns of EU citizens will be attended to even more.

Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, recently claimed that Brexit would lead to a domino effect and could spell the end of the EU. Do you share these fears?

No. I imagine the very opposite of this scenario, where the shock would actually draw us closer together. The UK is in a unique position; no other country could leave the EU as easily as they could. Obviously, there would be debates here and there about the role of the EU, but I believe that we would see people banding together rather than further division.

So how should the EU deal with the UK itself? Many so-called Brexiteers have advocated leaving, but maintaining access to the single market. But German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) said just a few days ago that he is not in favour of such an arrangement and that the UK is either in or out.

There can’t be special treatment for the UK. Brexit would be a huge cost to the country; the British would have to pay to leave the EU. But, of course, we would still need to continue our relationship with the UK, which is our neighbour and a country that has been in the EU for some four decades now. What status does the UK want and what would the remaining 27 be likely to confer on it? At the end of the day, the decision to leave will have to be accepted by the other member states and the European Parliament. It’s still unclear how that would actually play out.

The best case scenario for them probably is the Norwegian model: the UK would continue to enjoy access to the single market through membership of the European Economic Area, but would still have to pay for that privilege, as Norway does. But with this, the UK also takes on the same rules, like the principle of freedom of movement. That would probably be the main stumbling block in the negotiations.

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