European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Tuesday (7 May) he regrets not intervening in the Brexit referendum, insisting the EU could have “destroyed the lies” that led to Britain voting to leave.
Juncker, who will step down in the autumn after completing his five-year term, said he made a mistake by listening to British leader David Cameron when he told him to stay out of the campaign before the June 2016 vote.
“The then prime minister asked me not to interfere, not to intervene in the referendum campaign. It was a mistake not to intervene and not to interfere, because we would have been the only ones to destroy the lies that were circulated round,” Juncker said.
“I was wrong to be silent at an important moment.”
Juncker intervened in the Greek referendum on its bailout programme in 2015, imploring to Greek’s to vote ‘yes for Europe’, amid fears that Greece was on the brink of exiting the EU. Greeks rejected the bailout conditions but remained in the eurozone and EU.
However, Juncker sat out the UK Brexit debate.
The former Luxembourg prime minister said it was one of two “major mistakes” he made during his mandate — the other being his slow response to the LuxLeaks financial scandal at the start of his term.
EURACTIV asked Juncker if the British would be welcome if they would finally decide to stay in the EU.
“I don’t have fears, I don’t have hopes. I was saying the other day that by comparison to the British Parliament the Egyptian Sphinx are open books. Either they stay or they will leave. If they stay – they stay. If they leave – they leave”.
Back in 2016, before the Brexit referendum, Juncker said that “deserters won’t be welcome with open arms”.
Britain’s bombshell vote — by 52% to 48 — to leave the EU sent shockwaves through the bloc and came after a controversial campaign where both sides accused each other of peddling lies and exaggerations.
The process of actually leaving the EU has dragged on for nearly three years and is currently mired in bickering and infighting in the British parliament.
Cameron’s beleaguered successor, Theresa May, has repeatedly failed to win approval for the deal she struck with Brussels, forcing the planned departure date to be put back from 29 March to 31 October.
Juncker’s relations with Cameron were always difficult. The then UK prime minister led a campaign to oppose the former prime minister of Luxembourg’s appointment as Commission President, prompting some to argue that ignoring the opinion of such an important member as Britain contributed to the Brexit vote.