Cox: 'Brexit could spark disintegration of European Union'
Former European Parliament President Pat Cox fears a Brexit will spark the "disintegration" of the European Union (EU) and provide a stimulus to right-wing anti-political forces.
With the outcome too tight to call on polling day, Mr Cox told the Irish Independent that his hope is "the remain side will win".
Mr Cox, who served as EU President from 2002 until 2004, spoke as Britain goes to the polls on whether to remain in or leave the EU.
"The stakes are enormous, for the UK itself, for the wider EU and especially for the island of Ireland, whose overwhelming island interest is that the UK should vote to remain," he said.
"The end of the referendum campaign in the UK has been a political and emotional roller-coaster, overshadowed and interrupted but not stopped by the killing of Jo Cox, MP.
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"Opinion polls have shifted this way and that but with margins of advantage for either side that leave no room for complacency in terms of end of campaign messaging and in getting out the vote, who votes, by age and region, is likely to be as telling as how many choose to vote.
"Specifically, as the actual vote approaches my inclination has been to suppose that a larger number of voters will be risk averse and opt to avoid the downside risks of withdrawal from the EU without necessarily voting with great enthusiasm to remain.
"One hopes that common sense will prevail. Though, like beauty, common sense lies in the eye of the beholder," Mr Cox said.
"For the EU, whatever the immediate political and institutional responses, a leave vote would be the first act of disintegration of the EU (and its precursor organisations) since its foundation.
"The political effects of such a result would act as a stimulus to the potent and energised right wing, populist and anti-politics forces already evident in so many continental member states.
"This would not be the status quo ex ante in political terms. A terrible beauty would be born whose ultimate repercussions should not be underestimated.
"There could be a potential domino effect. EU leaders need to act to avoid such a prospect but not overreact so as to stimulate such an outcome," Mr Cox said.
"This is not to counsel despair but to suggest that whatever the result of the UK's referendum, it must act as a wake-up call for the EU and the leaders of its democratic centre. Muddling through has its limits. These limits have been reached.
"For Ireland, as regards jobs, economic growth, the border and Northern Ireland's future in a potentially disintegrating UK, the consequences of a vote to leave would be dramatic and compared to most other member states disproportionately challenging and difficult.
"One hopes that on Friday morning we can breathe a collective sigh of relief, if not, our path to the future will have to cross a bridge of sighs," he added.