German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble warned on Friday (10 June) that a UK vote to leave the European Union would see Britain shut out of the single market.
The ‘Leave’ campaign has claimed one option would be to leave the EU whilst remaining a member of the single market, like non-member states Norway and Switzerland.
“That won’t work,” Schäuble, Europe’s most powerful finance minister, told Der Spiegel on Friday, for a special edition which splashed with the headline “Please Don’t Go!”.
“That would require the country to follow the rules of a club which right now it wants to leave,” Schäuble added.
His remarks came as it emerged that the European Parliament’s political group leaders would hold an extraordinary plenary session at some point between 24-28 June to discuss their response to the referendum.
If Britain votes ‘Leave’, it will shut the nation out of the single market with its free movement of people, goods and services, Schäuble said, in the biggest intervention in the debate from Berlin since the start of the campaign.
“In is in. Out is out,” he declared.
With two weeks to go, opinion polls in Britain are neck-and-neck, despite the backing for ‘Remain’ by the prime minister, chancellor, the Labour, Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party, and the Bank of England, IMF and World Bank.
The UK joined in 1973, and voted to remain in 1975 by a two-thirds majority. If it leaves, it will be the only country bar Greenland to have ever left the 28-member bloc.
Schäuble warned that a Brexit could spark contagion in the EU, according to excerpts of the interview due to appear in Der Spiegel‘s Saturday edition.
“How, for example, would the Netherlands react, given its traditionally very close ties to Britain?” he said.
But Schäuble admitted that the entire Brexit referendum had highlighted problems with the EU, calling it a “warning and a wake-up call” whatever the result.
“In response to a Brexit, we couldn’t simply demand further integration,” he said.
“That would be clumsy. Many people would rightfully ask whether we politicians still haven’t got the message.”
Even if a Brexit is narrowly averted, he said, “we would have to see it as a warning and a wake-up call not to continue with business as usual.”
But – agreeing with the analysis by the IMF, Bank of England and others – he said it would be a “miracle if a British withdrawal would not have economic disadvantages”.
Eurozone finance ministers “are preparing for all possible scenarios in order to limit the dangers”, he added. Europe “will manage without Britain”, he told the magazine.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the ‘Remain’ camp went on the attack, launching a campaign poster showing Nigel Farage ‘gambling’ on Britain’s economic future.
The offensive came as senior Labour party figures, such as former health secretary Andy Burnham, admitted for the first time the ‘Remain’ camp might lose.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for keeping a low profile during the campaign thus far. Corbyn voted ‘out’ during the 1975 referendum, and has criticised the current EU as too corporatist and neo-liberal.
A YouGov poll for The Times this week found public opinion evenly split between leaving or staying in the EU, but Labour voters favoured “Remain” by 61% to 26%, with the remainder either not voting or undecided.
However, Labour voters were also marginally less likely to say they would definitely vote.
Schäuble’s comments were echoed by the UK’s only EU Commissioner, Jonathan Hill, who in a speech at Chatham House in London last night (9 June), said: “Trade negotiations are not about love, they are about bargaining power.
“A vote to leave the EU is a vote to leave the single market. It’s a vote for an unspecified agreement to be negotiated with 27 countries who sell 8% of their exports to the UK, but on whom we depend for nearly half of ours. “